MEDIA RELEASE 16 November 2016 |

The Victorian Government has rewarded commercial horse trainers for invading and trampling a sensitive coastal shorebird reserve instead of protecting fragile Hooded Plover habitat in a move that has deeply angered conservationists.

On Wednesday the Victorian Government issued a media release headlined ‘A bright future for Belfast Coast Beaches’, but the reality is anything but.

While reducing some areas available to horses, the decision means the reserve’s beaches will continue to be torn up and invaded by racehorse trainers using them as race tracks, undermining years of environmental management and jeopardising threatened birds such as Hooded Plovers.

Our executive director Matt Ruchel says the decision rewards commercial horse trainers for invading Belfast Coastal Reserve without authorisation, risks the survival of threatened shorebirds and public safety.

“The government might be giving commercial horse trainers a licence to continue damaging the reserve, but they will not get a social licence from the community,” he said.

“Racing cars aren’t allowed to practice on public roads, why should we let racehorses be trained on public beaches?”

Birdlife threatened

BirdLife Australia’s chief executive officer, Paul Sullivan, says Hooded Plovers cannot co-exist with commercial horse training.

“The horses churn up sand, disturb chicks and nesting birds, crush eggs and damage protective nest fencing,” he says.

“There’s no indication of how licence conditions will be enforced. No one will be on the beach counting horses. A permanent ban on commercial racehorse training is the only real solution to this issue.”

Locals angered

Much-loved Australian singer and songwriter Shane Howard is a vocal supporter of the Belfast Coastal Reserve Action Group (BCRAG), which has campaigned hard to protect the tiny Hooded Plovers from racehorses, says they are ‘gutted’ by the decision.

“For the environment minister to sign off on this proposal is an absolute disgrace,” he says.

“She might as well say to all those volunteers who have dedicated years of their time to Landcare and Coastcare, and those committed to the protection and preservation of threatened species like the Hooded Plover, don’t bother.”

Spokesperson for the action group, Bill Yates, says they will keep up the fight to protect the reserve.

“We are local people protecting an environmentally and culturally significant place,” he says.

“For some of us, our families have been here for generations and we simply won’t allow the reserve to be plundered and destroyed by commercial horse training. This is an unacceptable and non-conforming use of public beaches.”

BirdLife Australia and the Victorian National Parks Association are calling on the State Government to move quickly and establish the reserve as a coastal park with a management plan and regulations that deal with its many other issues, including off-leash dogs, illegal camping and off-road use, sand dune erosion, feral animals, weeds and fragmented management.