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Clarence Valley News

Spider woman’s book lifts lid on care risks



Jenna Thompson with her book jumping spider guide
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Spider woman’s book lifts lid on care risks


By Tim Howard

Jenna Thompson has always had a soft spot for spiders.

When she and her partner Dennis Mavridis moved houses in Maclean, before they finally settled at the property near Lawrence, she recalls packing up the huntsman that had taken residence with them and moving it into their new home.

But the former school teacher and journalist, who does communications for the NSW Department of Primary Industries, took this love of arachnids to a new level when she discovered jumping spiders.

These spiders – think of the stunning, if tiny, dancing peacock spiders – are the new darlings of the micro-pet world.

And Jenna, who stumbled across one a couple of years ago at her home and helped it raise 32 babies, has put everything she learned from that experience into a 64-page self-published booklet, Australian Jumping Spider Care Guide.

Asked to explain how these spiders have broken down the instinctive fear spiders bring out in most people, Jenna said it came down to the “cuteness factor”.

“These spiders have the big, forward-facing eyes. They’re fuzzy, they almost look like teddy bears,” she said.

“I’ve seen people online call them spider puppies, or web puppies because they do really break down that scary spider vibe.

“And they’re very smart. They sort of work out pretty quickly, that big person over there isn’t going to eat me.”

Jenna cannot recall how the fascination with this species of spider started, but she thinks it was around the time that Jürgen Otto’s stunning pictures of peacock spiders started making headlines.

She said she had been vaguely aware of their existence due to some posts on Facebook, but a chance discovery of an incapacitated female jumping spider in her backyard two years ago changed her focus.

“I wasn’t even looking for her to be honest,” Jenna said.

“I knew I wanted to keep one for a couple of weeks to get the feel of them and understand them a bit more. Just out of curiosity.”

Luckily for her new charge Jenna had just finished caring for some green tree frog froglets and had a supply of live little crickets which she tried out as a jumping spider food source.

“She was a big fan of those crickets,” Jenna said. “She went from struggling to turning things around very quickly.’

Jumping Spider Care Guide

The forward facing eyes, the shaggy coat. They’re just some of the characteristics of the jumping spider that are making them the new darlings of the pet world.

But Jenna was in for lot more surprises, 32 in all, beginning just a week later.

“She was pregnant, so within less than a week of having her she went straight into nesting and then produced 32 offspring a couple of months later,” Jenna said.

Jenna spotted an opportunity to gather more information about this species.

“I just wanted to keep her in captivity, understand how she behaves, how she reacts to things and then let her go again,” Jenna said.

“With the surprise babies, I sort of took it on the chin and went cool, this is a great opportunity to learn more about them from birth.”

But even basic details like, how long should I wait until they come out of the nest, were hard to come by, even online groups selling spiders and products to care for them.

“I thought it was strange that, for people who are breeding and selling them, they couldn’t really tell me how long it was going to take before they hatched,” she said.

So, Jenna decided it was time to fill in the blanks and began to record the data the hatchlings provided.

It wasn’t an easy task, looking after animals about the size of a pinhead.

“I almost went blind,” Jenna said.

“But I found there’s so much data to come from them and there were patterns in that data.”

Unfortunately, Jenna found people with a commercial interest in the spiders had attitudes ranging from indifferent to hostile.

“There was really no interest in that information,” she said. “I found I was pretty much alone in actually recording this kind of data, at least within the hobby community.”

Instead, Jenna went down the scientific route and found scientists looking at the jumping spiders were also amazed by what they were finding out about these tiny creatures.

“I started looking at scientific papers, reaching out to the scientific community and just got really into it,” Jenna said.

“One study, for example, found that they actually have an REM sort of sleep just like us.”

But it’s what the spiders do when they’re awake and hunting for a meal that really has scientists on the edge of their seats.

Jenna said she’s been in contact with New Zealand scientist Dr Ximena Nelson, who has just received a A$1million grant to study the hunting tactics of Portia jumping spiders.

“It’s very similar to the way a lion hunts in that it assesses the situation it compares the risks and the rewards which isn’t invertebrate behaviour,” Jenna said.

Jumping Spiders Care Guide

Photographer Tom Wainwright has been hard at work tracking down jumping spiders in the Northern Rivers area. He’s captured some of the features that are turning them into sought after pets.

Prof Nelson, while speaking to the press last month, said the research had ramifications for humans.

She said the new research would test whether planning is possible, not only in mammals and birds with large brains, but also in small animals with tiny brains such as Portia, which has a brain with less than 1 million times fewer neurones than a human brain.

“Our findings will be significant because they could lead to the development of algorithms that enable the creation of artificial planning systems in machines with severe power constraints, such as those used on space missions. This may have implications for artificial intelligence,” Prof Nelson said.

Jenna said she was thrilled that Prof Nelson not only read her book but provided positive feedback and advice for any further editions.

“She also shared some fascinating information about population decline for the species and the importance of returning spiders to the exact location they were found after any studies are completed,” Jenna said.

Jenna said she had come to a similar conclusion after her contact with the species.

She said she had put the spider she cared for into a clear acrylic container which is commonly marketed and sold as a standard jumping spider enclosure.

She said the spider was happy to nest in the container for two months while she hatched her babies, but after that she exhibited some troubling behaviour.

“Within a day or two of that spider emerging from the nest, she began obsessively pacing around the top of her enclosure. To me, it didn’t look normal, she didn’t look happy.”

“That’s when I started to realise she’s actually a really smart spider, and to put her in something so tiny and understimulating was totally inappropriate for her.”

So how big an area do jumping spiders need?

As the name suggests, they’re active creatures and one that lived in the kitchen at her workplace, the old Agricultural Research Station at Trenayr near Grafton, moved around the whole room seeking food and mates.

It’s no surprise that when Jenna put those views in the spider community it generated opposition.

“There was a real lack of information out there, accurate information,” she said.

“I have my reservations about the enclosures. I don’t think they are appropriate.

“People were constantly asking questions, good questions, like, why is my spider behaving this way or what’s the best spider to start with?

“Those questions were often answered by the online community, but when it came to enclosures and behaviour, the answers given were often wrong.

“Some of the answers simply directed you to go and buy a product that doesn’t have any consideration for the welfare of the spider.

Jenna Thompson with her book jumping spider guide

Clarence Valley woman Jenna Thompson has just written an informative booklet on how to care for the latest craze in micro-pets, jumping spiders. It’s available online.

It’s something Jenna has taken to heart and as much as she enjoys having spiders around, she won’t be keeping any in tiny enclosures.

“I prefer to see them in the wild, in their natural habitat,” Jenna said.

“Though I know the scientists I’ve spoken to really struggle with the ethics of containing these spiders in those little cages while they study them.”“But they and I both realise it’s for a purpose, it’s the most efficient way to view them in a scientific context, and it’s not for their entire lives.”

“For me the issue is, if you’re going to have them as a pet, it’s not good enough to just stick them in a small cage on a bookshelf with cute little trinkets inside that appeal to you and not the spider.”

Jenna says this book could be the start of something more.

“It’s still early days in unlocking the potential of these spiders, but I’m already thinking about how to build upon and expand this guide as more information is discovered about them,” Jenna said.

Already she’s enlisted the macro-photographic skills of photographer Tom Wainwright to capture close up images of local spiders.

“I’ve given Tommy a bingo card of spiders I would like photographed and he’s done a great job of finding them and sending me the photos,” she said.

“His beautiful photos will definitely compliment the next edition.”

To get a copy of the book Jenna has set up a web page.


For more local Clarence Valley news, click here.

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Clarence Valley News

Councillors and staff at odds over flood plain development




Flooding in Shores Dr, Yamba flood plain development.
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Councillors and staff at odds over flood plain development


By Tim Howard

Clarence Valley Council has found itself offering conflicting information to a State Government planning body meeting this week to deal with a 284-dwelling development in West Yamba.

A combination of red tape and delays in providing information to the Northern Region Planning Panel has meant council staff have provided a recommendation to the panel to approve the development.

But at the May 28 ordinary council meeting councillors voted 5-2 to not approve the development because of serious non-compliance issues detailed in an attachment to the report in the council business paper.

At the council meeting council’s director environment and planning Adam Cameron revealed council staff were required to submit the staff recommendation to the planning panel before councillors could see it.

This had led to the councillors seeing a staff assessment made 18 months ago, which included a long list of non-compliances.

Mr Cameron said the staff had only submitted the most up to date assessment to the NRPP on the morning of the council meeting.

He said there was nothing to stop the council staff and councillors making differing submissions to the NRPP.

“An elected council may make a submission on a development application to be determined by the panel up to seven days before the panel meeting and may speak to the to the submission at the public determination meeting,” Mr Cameron said.

The unusual regulations around planning panel operation created this situation.

When a development of regional significance comes to a planning panel, effectively council staff work for the planning panel and its rules forbid sharing that work, even with the councillors who effectively are their employers.

Mr Cameron confirmed this to the meeting.

“The council resolution and the officer assessment report are two different things,” he said.

“The officer assessment report is undertaken independent of the elected body in accordance with the planning panel operating procedures.”

Cr Greg Clancy moved the council make a submission to the NRPP when it met on June 11 to not support the 284-lot sub-division.

The applicant for the development is Garrard Building Pty Ltd acting for the owner, Kahuna No.1 Pty Ltd.

Cr Clancy said the submission to not approve was a “no brainer” due to the number and seriousness of the non-compliance issues raised in the staff’s preliminary assessment.

“These are serious non-compliances and omissions,” Cr Clancy said.

“And I think the assessment briefing report which is available to us is what we have to take as our view of the planning issues in relation to this.

“We can’t see the report to the planning panel till after the planning panel.”

Cr Clancy then presented an extensive list of non-compliance issues, which were listed in Attachment A to the report to council.

The motion’s seconder, Cr Bill Day, said his concerns were the impacts on roads, parking and infrastructure and dramatic increases in population and numbers of motor vehicles using local roads.

Cr Karen Toms agreed the list looked damning, but said the staff report to the panel could well contain measure the developer had taken to fix them.

“I feel that without actually knowing what the assessment is from our professional staff, that we are not prepared to support a motion without actually seeing how they’ve addressed those issues,” she said.

“And we can’t do that yet because that’s how it works with the planning panel.”

Cr Steve Pickering spoke in support of not approving the development.

He has been a critic of the NRPP “taking over” from council in planning matters and has put up a notice of motion calling for the NRPP structure to change to allow councillors to comment on matters before it.

After the meeting Cr Pickering said the current structure disempowered councillors and made them feel like they weren’t in a position to make a decision on these sort of developments.

Outside of council other groups were also preparing submission against the development, which has attracted 330 submission from the public.

Yamba Community Action Network was one of the groups making a submission, with its secretary Lynne Cairns addressing the panel.

Ahead of the June 11 hearing she said one of YambaCAN’s key concerns was providing adequate evacuation for residents during floods.

“Evacuation plans rely on using Yamba Rd to get to the evacuation centre in Yamba Bolo and we know the road was cut for long periods during the February March 2022 flooding,” she said.

“And to get to Yamba Rd people would have to use Carrs Dr, Golding St and other roads that were also flooded for long periods.”

She said the amount of fill, up to three metres in some instances, meant homes built on these mounds became islands.

“People who get caught there or decide to stay will need to be supplied and it will mean extra work for SES and other emergency service carrying food or medical supplies or evacuating people.”

Greens MLC Sue Higginson will also make a submission to the panel and Dr Greg Clancy, will address the panel for the Clarence Environment Centre.


For more local Clarence Valley news, click here.

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Clarence Valley News

YambaCAN invited to address parliamentary committee




YambaCAN parliamentary committee
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YambaCAN invited to address parliamentary committee


By Tim Howard

A community group (YambaCAN) at the centre of the opposition to housing development on the West Yamba flood plain has been invited to give evidence to a NSW Parliamentary Committee later this month.

The invitation to Yamba Community Action Network from Portfolio Committee No. 7 – Planning and Environment represents a change of mind from the committee.

Earlier this year the committee had visited the NSW South Coast and Sydney, conducting site visits and taking submissions from residents.

But it decided to cut its North Coast commitments to just two days of site visits to areas between Port Macquarie and the Tweed.

Four members of the committee toured West Yamba and Maclean on May 31, where YambaCAN presented seven folders of documents, photographs and thumb drives containing Powerpoint presentations, videos and other evidence gathered during flood events in the area.

YambaCAN chair Col Shephard said the change of heart from the committee was welcome.

“We welcome the invitation of now being given the opportunity of a hearing,” he said.

“Two representatives will be providing evidence at the hearing for the inquiry into the planning system and the impacts of climate change on the environment and communities.

“The two representatives are Lynne Cairns, Secretary of Yamba CAN Inc, and Helen Tyas Tunggal, member of Yamba CAN Inc.”

The Portfolio Committee No. 7 – Planning and Environment invited YambaCAN to give evidence at a hearing for the inquiry into the planning system and the impacts of climate change on the environment and communities in the Jubilee Room at NSW Parliament House, Sydney on Monday June 17 between 11am and 11.30am.

West Yamba residents were out in force for the committee site visit with at least 50 line streets waving banners and signs.

Mr Shephard said there needed to be a moratorium on development in the area while new evidence about the effects of climate change on areas like West Yamba were investigated.

He said residents who lived through the flooding in February and March 2022 had noted and collected data on flood heights and water flows which seemed to differ from the information planners relied on.

The committee’s terms of reference were established last year.

YambaCAN parliamentary committee

YambaCAN secretary Lynne Cairns, right and member Helen Tyas Tungal will present the group’s submission about the problems of flood plain development to the NSW Parliament’s Portfolio 7 Committee in Sydney later this month.

That Portfolio Committee 7 inquire into and report on how the planning system can best ensure that people and the natural and built environment are protected from climate change impacts and changing landscapes, and in particular:

  • developments proposed or approved:
    • in flood and fire prone areas or areas that have become more exposed to natural disasters as a result of climate change,
    • in areas that are vulnerable to rising sea levels, coastal erosion or drought conditions as a result of climate change, and
    • in areas that are threatened ecological communities or habitat for threatened species
  • the adequacy of planning powers and planning bodies, particularly for local councils, to review, amend or revoke development approvals, and consider the costs, that are identified as placing people or the environment at risk as a consequence of:
    • (i) the cumulative impacts of development,
    • (ii) climate change and natural disasters,
    • (iii) biodiversity loss, and
    • (iii) rapidly changing social, economic and environmental circumstances
  • short, medium and long term planning reforms that may be necessary to ensure that communities are able to mitigate and adapt to conditions caused by changing environmental and climatic conditions, as well as the community’s expectation and need for homes, schools, hospitals and infrastructure
  • alternative regulatory options to increase residential dwelling capacity where anticipated growth areas are no longer deemed suitable, or where existing capacity has been diminished due to the effects of climate change
  • listening to, and learning from, Aboriginal voices and experiences to better inform planning outcomes1
  • any other related matters.


For more Yamba news, click here.

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Clarence Valley News

Ferry departs looking its best




Ulmarra Ferry Decorations
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Ferry departs looking its best


By Tim Howard

The residents of Ulmarra did their best to ensure their beloved ferry sailed into history looking its absolute best for its last day of service on Monday.

The 74-year-old vessel, the latest to have crossed the Clarence River between Ulmarra and Southgate, made its last trip at 10.40pm on Monday, ending more than 130 years of history.

After making its last trip on Monday it’s scheduled to be towed to Harwood Marine where it will be decommissioned

Residents from Ulmarra and Southgate, who had fought the NSW Government since April to keep the ferry service, gathered on Sunday to dress up the vessel for its last two days of service.

Cr Steve Pickering, an Ulmarra businessman, has been one of the leading figures in the battle to save the ferry service.

He brought two notices of motion to Clarence Valley Council, calling for the council to urge the State Government to ensure the ferry service continued.

Residents also raised a petition which quickly attracted more than 6000 signatures which the Member for Clarence, Richie Williamson, presented to State Parliament.

Ulmarra Ferry Last Day

Ulmarra and Southgate residents have added some festive touches to the Ulmarra Ferry of its last day on Monday. The last crossing occurred at 10.40pm.

While Cr Pickering was disappointed the government ignored the clear wishes of the community most galling was decision to maintain a ferry service in Sydney, which compared less than favourably with the Ulmarra service.

“The same day the Clarence Valley community discovered that while the Ulmarra ferry service had been cancelled, the same government took ownership and operational control of the Lower Portland Ferry,” Cr Pickering said.

“The Lower Portland Ferry is in Sydney, transports fewer vehicles, costs more, and the equivalent trip by road is shorter than the trip between Ulmarra and Southgate via Grafton.

“To hear this information is devastating and unbelievable.”

Cr Pickering said to take a service from regional NSW and then use the cost savings to buy and operate a similar service in Sydney was not right.

“It’s not right for a government that is supposed to represent all citizens to so blatantly and obviously favour and support those who live in Sydney over our farmers, tradies, families, and tourists,” he said.

“Come on Jenny Aitchison MP, what is going on here? This decision was made before the decision to cancel the Ulmarra service was made.”

Cr Pickering said a Transport for NSW spokesperson had commented on local radio that the Portland service was different because the ferry in use was not near the end of its useful life and there was no sandbank issues.

“The thing about that is the government has known about those issues for a long time and done nothing to fix them,” he said.

“If they’d been serious about keeping the ferry service they would have had plans in place to replace it and deal with the silting problem.

“Instead they did nothing and just closed it down.”

Social media has also lit up with support for keeping the ferry service and many people taking time to have one last trip on the ferry and sharing the experience.

Ulmarra Ferry Decorations

The ferry leaves to cross the river during its last day of service on Monday. Transport for NSW decommissioned the ferry on Monday, ending more than 130 years of river crossings at Ulmarra.

Rumour the ferry was on the chopping block began to emerge early in the year and by aMarch Mr Williamson had raised a petition calling on the NSW Government to keep the ferry.

But before he could bring the petition to parliament the TfNSW director North Region Anna Zycki made the announcement the ferry was to close.

She said it had reached an age and condition where it was no longer fit to operate and ongoing river conditions also made the service untenable.

“The existing ferry has reached the end of its serviceable life,” she said.

“Because the existing ferry is now so old and requires so much repair, such a large restoration project would take about 18 months and cost an estimated $5 million, which is around a million dollars more than building a new car ferry.

“It’s effectively beyond repair, so this service would have been closed for that length of time anyway.”

Ms Zycki said silting on the southside of the river at Southgate was another problem for the service.

“The river is constantly changing course and there is nothing we can do to prevent the silt building up,” she said.

“We’ve dredged in the past, but it’s only a matter of a couple of weeks and the silt is back. It’s costly to do and has no lasting benefit.”

Ms Zycki said the number of cars carried on the ferry had plummeted since the opening of the second bridge at Grafton.

“When the new Balun Bindarray Bridge opened in Grafton in late 2019, patronage of the Ulmarra ferry immediately dropped by 46%” Ms Zycki said.

“It was anticipated that demand for the ferry would decline once the new bridge opened so it would largely replace the ferry service.

“The patronage hasn’t returned and the ferry – when river conditions allow it to operate – now carries on average about one vehicle per trip, costing taxpayers $22 for each vehicle journey.”


For more local Clarence Valley news, click here.

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