A fragile coastal reserve in southwest Victoria has been invaded by racehorse trainers using it as a ‘race track’. They’re tearing up the beaches and dunes and jeopardising the future of threatened birds such as hooded plovers.

Highly-strung racehorses are pounding up and down the beaches in the Belfast Coastal Reserve between Port Fairy and Warrnambool.

They are intimidating local beachgoers, risking the safety of the general public and putting threatened birds like the hooded plover at risk.

But the Victorian Government plans to reward the commercial trainers of the horses by giving them a licence to continue.

Belfast Coastal Reserve was established in the 1980s to protect coastal wildlife and provide for passive recreation. It is the second-most important breeding ground on Victoria’s coastline for hooded plovers.

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 Andrews Government recently gave out funding for a purpose-built sand training facility. This is a sensible alternative to beach training, but 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.

VNPA has teamed up with Birdlife Australia and the Belfast Coastal Reserve Action Group in calling on the Victorian government to end commercial horse training in the reserve.

Once horse training has stopped, the reserve should be turned into the Belfast Coastal Park.

The new coastal park must have a good management plan and regulations to deal with other issues facing the area: off-leash dogs, illegal camping and off-road use, sand dune erosion, feral animals, weeds and fragmented management.