MEDIA RELEASE 15 November 2018 |

BirdLife Australia and the Victorian National Parks Association are appalled at the State Government’s decision to allow commercial horse training to continue in the Belfast Coastal Reserve between Warrnambool and Port Fairy.

“Racehorses belong on race tracks and in proper training grounds,” Victorian National Parks Association executive director Matt Ruchel said.

“Horses have no place in sensitive conservation areas that are supposed to protect some of our most threatened birdlife. This sets a terrible precedent for coastal management and wildlife protection in this state.”

The reserve 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.

“The government is rewarding commercial horse trainers for invading the Belfast Coastal Reserve without authorisation, threatening the survival of threatened shorebirds and risking public safety,” Mr Ruchel said.

“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.”

Chief executive officer of BirdLife Australia Paul Sullivan said 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.

“This is a half-baked plan that won’t protect Hooded Plovers and other coastal values,” he said.

“The closure of some Hooded Plover sites to trainers will just push other issues onto these beaches, increasing the threat to our plovers. Without funding for the management and protection of shorebirds this is all smoke and mirrors. All the money is being given to the racing industry.

“The arrangements announced by government are messy, complex and will be impossible to enforce.

“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.”

Matt Ruchel disputed the government’s claim it has been working on this solution for two years.

“The Victorian Government sat on its hands for two years while the number of horses using the beaches skyrocketed. It was only when the community raised serious concerns that it started a consultation process, largely with the racing industry, not the community,” he said.

“We lost confidence in the consultation process when the racing minister pre-empted its outcome by making public statements that the trainers had to stay. Well, the minister has got what he wants. But it’s not what the community wants. They want the horses out now.”

BirdLife Australia and the Victorian National Parks Association are calling on the State Government to move quickly to 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.