MEDIA RELEASE 14 October 2016 |

A fragile coastal reserve in South West Victoria is being torn up and invaded by racehorse trainers who are using conservation areas as ‘race tracks’, undermining years of environmental management and jeopardising threatened birds such as Hooded Plovers, leading conservation groups said today.

BirdLife Australia and the Victorian National Parks Association are calling on the Victorian Government to end commercial horse training in the Belfast Coastal Reserve between Port Fairy and Warrnambool.

“Highly-strung racehorses pounding up and down the beach are intimidating local beachgoers, risking the safety of the general public and putting threatened species at risk,” VNPA project manager Chris Smyth said today.

“Horses belong on race tracks and in proper training grounds. They have no place in sensitive conservation areas that are supposed to protect some of our most threatened bird life.”

The reserve was established in the 1980s to protect coastal wildlife and provide for passive recreational activities, but has recently been invaded by commercial horse trainers exercising their racehorses.

“The invasion by horse trainers risks the future of the threatened Hooded Plover and treaty-protected migratory shorebirds,” BirdLife Australia’s CEO Paul Sullivan said.

BirdLife Australia runs a successful national community-based conservation program for beach-nesting birds and says the Belfast Coastal Reserve is the second most important breeding ground on Victoria’s coastline for Hooded Plovers. It is also recognised globally as an Important Bird Area.

“Hooded Plovers cannot co-exist with commercial horse training. The horses churn up the sand, disturb the chicks and nesting birds, crush eggs and damage protective nest fencing.

“The Victorian Government should regulate to ban commercial horse training from the Belfast Coastal Reserve. A simple alternative is to construct a purpose-built sand track away from the beach for trainers to use.”

The VNPA also backs the idea.

“A sand track would give certainty to the industry and a safe workplace for the horses and their riders. It would also bring an end to the many ongoing conflicts with other beachgoers,” Mr Smyth said.

“The Victorian Government recently provided funding to help build a training pool for the Warrnambool Racing Club. A purpose-built sand track would add huge value to that initiative.”

A commercial horse training ban and a purpose-built sand track should be the outcomes of the government’s current consultation process, after which it should establish the reserve as a coastal park with a management plan and regulations that deal with the many other issues there: off-leash dogs, illegal camping and off-road use, sand dune erosion, feral animals, weeds and fragmented management.