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Belfast Coastal Reserve - Hooded Plovers at risk

Racehorses bolting up and down the beach would frighten anyone, but for tiny Hooded Plovers they're life threatening. Photos: Hooded Plover chick, Glenn Ehmke; horse trainers, Chris Smyth


A fragile coastal reserve between Port Fairy and Warrnambool has been invaded by commercial racehorse trainers using it as a 'race track'. Highly-strung racehorses are tearing up the beaches and dunes, jeopardising the future of threatened birds and risking the safety of the general public.

Despite these concerns, the Victorian Government has rewarded the invaders by announcing in November 2016 it would be 'formalising' specific horse training areas on the reserve's beaches through the issue of licences.


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In response, the Greens gave notice of a motion in Parliament to disallow the government's approach. As a result, licences are yet to be issued.
But that hasn't stopped the horses.

Please email Victorian environment minister Lily D'Ambrosio and racing minister Martin Pakula today >>


Wildlife at risk

Community monitoring of commercial horse training in the reserve since the government's announcement has revealed horses directly impacting on wildlife, especially threatened hooded plovers. The amenity and safety of beachgoers are also at risk.

Hooded plovers cannot co-exist with commercial horse training because it churns up the sand, disturbs the chicks and nesting birds, crushes eggs and damages protective nest fencing. The reserve is the second-most important breeding ground on Victoria's coastline for the hoodies.

If the government's approach is allowed through Parliament, it will immediately issue the licences. There are even media reports that horses will be allowed back into the Levys Beach sand dunes, an area of high natural and cultural sensitivity. The area was closed to horses prior to Christmas 2016 because of genuine concerns about their impacts.

Commercial horse training has severe impacts on the natural, social and cultural values of the Belfast Coastal Reserve. It's also inconsistent with why the reserve was established in the 1980s, for natural and cultural conservation, and passive recreation.


Hooded Plover chicks stand at just over 6cm tall, and stand no chance against heavy racehorse hooves. Plover chick photo courtesy Glenn Ehmke


Horses belong on courses

While all this is happening, the government has begun the preparation of a coastal management plan for the reserve.

It should be used to provide the foundation for turning the reserve into a coastal park. But if it doesn't exclude commercial horse training, and if there are no regulations made to deal with the other issues facing the area, such as off-leash dogs, illegal camping and off-road use, sand dune erosion, feral animals, weeds and fragmented management, then it will be a failure.

The government's recent funding of an off-reserve, purpose-built horse training facility should resolve the issue. Unfortunately, the government thinks the racing industry should have its cake and eat it to - beach access would continue even after the sand training facility was built.

That's just not good enough.

Commercial horse training in the reserve should be stopped immediately and, once out, it shouldn't be let back in.


Take action

Please email Victorian environment minister Lily D'Ambrosio and racing minister Martin Pakula today.

  • Express your concerns about the future for the hooded plovers, other threated birds, cultural sites and the safety of beachgoers.
  • Urge them to remove commercial horse training from the Belfast Coastal Reserve and to turn it into a coastal park.

Take action now >>


More info

Horses for courses not beaches >>
Belfast Coastal Reserve Action Group >>


Watch video

Hooded Plovers nest in shallow scrapes on the high side of the beach between August and March, and are vulnerable to attacks by dogs and feral animals and disturbance from people - and now galloping horses.