MEDIA RELEASE:  17 January 2018 |

The Andrews Government’s draft management plan for the Belfast Coastal Reserve (between Port Fairy and Warrnambool) released today increases the area available to controversial commercial horse training, undermining one of the south-west region’s key conservation, tourism and recreational asset its beaches.

Under the plan, commercial racehorse training would be expanded onto multiple beaches and in sand dunes between Port Fairy and Warrnambool, with devastating effects for tiny beach-nesting birds like the nationally threatened hooded plovers (it’s a breeding hotspot), and the safety and enjoyment of mum, dad and the kids, anglers, surfers and other beachgoers.

Matt Ruchel, the Victorian National Parks Association’s Executive Director, said that after almost two years of consultation, the racing industry had been given everything it wanted, and the community very little.

“It appears, under the proposed management plan, that commercial racehorse training area will increase from two kilometres to five kilometres, covering at least 25 per cent of the beaches. And the multi-million-dollar racing industry will get taxpayer-funded infrastructure upgrades – it hardly seems balanced.

“This is not a plan for the future, it’s a relic of past coastal mismanagement and inappropriate use. Taxpayers will be funding more car parks to be filled by more horse floats. More access tracks will be built to allow more horses onto the reserve’s fragile dunes and beaches.

“The draft plan would even allow racehorse training inside a Conservation Zone at Rutledges Cutting,” Mr Ruchel said.

Increased numbers of commercial horse trainers invaded the Belfast Coastal Reserve without permission in 2015. Ever since, racehorse training has been mismanaged, with numerous breaches of licensing conditions, public safety put at risk, and taxpayers footing the bill for costly surveillance and infrastructure upgrades. Expanding the number of training beaches will simply make it worse.

“Documents received by the VNPA under Freedom of Information show that under current license conditions, commercial horse trainers pay as little as $2.00 per horse per day to train on public beaches, even though a taxpayer-funded, purpose-built sand track has been built at the Warrnambool Racing Club.

“That is where racehorse training should occur so that mum, dad and the kids, anglers, surfers – and threatened hooded plovers – can have their beaches back.

“The Belfast Coastal Reserve was set up in the 1980s to conserve cultural sites, coastal wildlife and support recreational activities. Commercial racehorse training was never in the mix, and it shouldn’t be now.”