NEWS 1 August 2017 |

A video shot yesterday morning of an out-of-control horse in the Belfast Coastal Reserve again proves that horses are for courses, not beaches.

Yet the Andrews Government has licensed the use of the Belfast Coastal Reserve for commercial horse training at great risk to beachgoer safety, threatened hooded plovers and other local wildlife. ‘Golfies’ Beach, where the accident occurred, is one of the most popular surfing, fishing and recreational beaches at East Beach, near Port Fairy in south west Victoria. But it is also the beach that Environment Minister, Lily D’Ambrosio, has approved for commercial horse training.

The video is the result of the ongoing monitoring by the local community, which is outraged by the Government’s approach (we are working closely with them to have this terrible decision reversed).  Members of the Belfast Coastal Reserve Action Group (BCRAG) regularly monitor the horse training that occurs within the reserve each morning from dawn.

Here is BCRAG’s report on yesterday morning’s accident:

At around 8.30 am, on Monday 31 July 2017, during a commercial training exercise, it appears that a commercial racehorse fell in the surf and the rider was dislodged. The distressed horse bolted across the beach, up and over the dunes, with the rider in pursuit. Minutes before, there was a jogger and walker and numerous surfers in the vicinity. Hoof prints were located in the dunes within 30 metres of the thirteenth green of Port Fairy Golf Course. A main road to Port Fairy, unfenced, is on the other side of the Golf Course. These dunes also contain Indigenous burial grounds and ancient shell middens and are home to the threatened Hooded Plover. The completely sodden and distressed horse was eventually captured. Thankfully, both horse and rider seemed OK. Apart from the obvious threat to the environment and wildlife that commercial horse training poses on the pristine beaches of Belfast Coastal Reserve, this raises serious OH & S and public safety issues.  It’s obvious that commercial horse training on public beaches cannot be managed safely and having a ‘steward’ from Warrnambool Racing Club present in the car park did nothing to prevent or rectify this dangerous situation. The State Labor Government’s Environment Minister, Lily D’Ambrosio, wants to legitimise commercial horse training on the beaches of South West Victoria but today’s incident has demonstrated that neither she, nor anyone else, can control activities when things go wrong.

As well as licensing commercial horse training in the reserve, the Andrews Government has poured considerable public funds into the construction of a training pool and sand training track at the Warrnambool Racing Club. There never was a justifiable reason for allowing horses on the reserve’s beaches, but these facilities, which VNPA endorses, should have removed any racing industry demand for ongoing beach access.  But it hasn’t, the industry emboldened by the enthusiastic support for beach access from the Racing Minister, Martin Pakula. If the Government wants to spend more money on the industry, it should fund an uphill sand-training track at the Warrnambool Racing Club, just like the one in Ballarat, and stop risking wildlife and public safety in the Belfast Coastal Reserve.

It’s time to protect the natural and cultural heritage and beachgoers in the Belfast Coastal Reserve, get the horses out and turn it into a park under the National Parks Act.