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Byron Shire
September 28, 2022

Bruns hit with illegal campers

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Illegal camping in Brunswick Heads

A spike in illegal camping in the nature reserve next to Brunswick Heads Surf Club is taking a toll on native plants and animals there, with some campers bringing cars, dogs and petrol-powered generators into the pristine spot.

Despite Council attempts to block vehicle access to the sprawling reserve, multiple campsites remain, with some campers driving over native plants and shrubs to enter the area.

Rohan Stewart from the Brunswick Bush School said that in the four-and-a-half years he had been coming to the reserve he had never seen so much illegal camping.

‘There’s always been a few long-term campers in there, but in the past six months it’s gone crazy,’ Mr Stewart said.

‘It’s not just people at the low end of the income spectrum.

‘It looks like word has gotten around that there’s this great spot here where you can camp next to the beach and the river, with public toilets nearby and free meals at the community centre.’

Mr Stewart supplied The Echo with pictures of two large and elaborate campsites in the reserve that included generators, fires and dogs.

‘Once you get people driving in they’re able to bring in a whole lot more gear,’ he said.

‘You’re getting cars driving over plants that took quite a while to grow, people cutting off branches for firewood or access.

Bollards needed

‘This is an area where you’ve got swamp wallabies, echidnas, goannas.

‘This would definitely be having an impact on the native wildlife.’

He said a couple of well-placed bollards in the carpark would make it much harder for people to get their cars in.

Nadia de Souza Pietramale, who has spent nearly nine years clearing bitou bush from the site, said one long-term camper had been particularly destructive.

‘He’s got a four-wheel-drive, a trailer and a bike in there,’ said Ms de Souza Pietramale, from the group Byron Shire Chemical Free Landcare.

‘He rides all over the pink nodding orchidia, which is a threatened species… and clears the native plants so he can play golf in there.

‘I’ve reported him to Crown Lands hundreds of times, but they never do anything.’

Management split

One of the reasons for the lack of action in relation to illegal camping on the site appears to be the fact that management responsibility is split between Byron Council, Crown Lands and National Parks.

‘The community is paying the price for the lack of proper management,’ Ms de Souza Pietramale said.

‘The signage needs to be clarified for a start; it’s very confusing.

‘Then there’s the dumping. We [Byron Shire Chemical Free Landcare] are the ones who end up dealing with the old mattresses and other stuff from people who camp there and then leave half their campsite behind.’

Council staff Q&A

Has council observed an increase in the number of people camping illegally on Crown Land next to the Brunswick Heads surf club and in the adjacent Tyagarah Reserve? If so, what does Council attribute this to?

Illegal camping is a significant issue in the  Byron Shire, particularly in the warmer months and around major events such as music festivals.

Council’s enforcement team works seven days a week targeting a wide range of activities, including illegal camping, and issues fines accordingly.

There are some parts of the Shire that are hotspots for illegal camping and Brunswick Heads is one of them.  Staff have observed the number of people camping on Crown land at Brunswick Heads fluctuates.

Is council aware of the impact these activities are having on the natural environment in this area? 

Illegal camping is not only a major concern for Council staff but residents are naturally worried about the impact on their amenity.  Illegal camping often occurs in places where there are no public toilets or rubbish bins and the impact on the environment is immediate.  Areas become dirty and unhygienic very quickly and local people feel alienated from public spaces.  Staff are patrolling the Shire every day targeting these type of activities.

Council staff are aware of the issues associated with illegal camping activity in the Shire.  This issue has been the subject of reports to Council.

What measures has council taken to address this problem? Has this included council officers taking enforcement action? If so, how many fines have been issued in the past two months?

Council’s enforcement team works seven days a week, patrolling the Shire for activities including illegal camping and parking offences etc.  During busy periods, such as Christmas and New Year, rosters often start at 3am and finish at midnight to send a strong message to illegal campers.

Between Christmas and New Year in 2017 staff issued 1119 infringement notices for a range of offences including illegal camping and parking. 218 of those notices were for illegal camping and 901 were for other offences including parking fines and people setting up their vans and sleeping in cars in ‘No Parking’ areas.

Many illegal campers are people just passing through the Byron Shire, while others are homeless people.  The issue of homelessness is complex and not something that can be solved by the Council alone.  There is not a simple answer. Council works closely with a range of other agencies, including NSW Health, FACs and NSW Police. It is important for people to know that Council only has limited powers to move people on and for this reason, Council patrols are often done in conjunction with police. Council staff patrol and take action appropriate to the situation in accordance with Council’s enforcement policy and homeless policy. Rostered patrols of the area will continue over the summer period.

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  1. We have three caravan parks in Brunswick Heads that no longer provide affordable camp sites and there are four crown reserve parks in Byron dedicated to the tourist market. illegal camping has only become a major problem over the past decade as the cost of camping in the designated parks became so expensive. It’s also difficult to secure a site over the holiday periods or when festivals are happening. Our local environment pays the price. The lack of infrastructure and affordable camping options is the problem. Crown lands ‘competition policy’ and current obsession with upmarket cabins has resulted in new POM for Massy Greene eliminating all 43 camp sites – when more cheap, affordable sites are desperately needed for lower income holidayers. So if we don’t cater for these people, the campers – and the homeless – are going bush!

  2. “Council staff patrol and take action appropriate to the situation in accordance with Council’s enforcement policy and homeless policy”. Is this policy do nothing and get back in the ute?, as this seems to be the regular course taken. It’s pretty clear Byron Council Councillors and staff have no regard for the amenity of its ratepayers, they couldn’t care less. Only interested in the paycheque.

  3. Thanks for highlighting this issue, I am a regular walker through this area and a regular complainer to the council.
    Strengthening the barriers to the area would to keep out the illegal vehicles which are beginning to do a lot of damage.
    After one of my complaints a chain was padlocked across one access , it didn’t last more than a day!
    There have always been a few genuinely homeless folk there or there about and they cause few problems.
    The travelers who can afford the vehicles that I’ve seen, could afford to stay in one of the 3 camp grounds in Bruns. If not then move on to one of the many free sites up and down the highway.

  4. What I am about to suggest would solve quite a few of the issues facing residents of Byron Shire which emanate from illegal camping and illegal parking …. CLAMPING!

    Clamping would I believe be a major deterrent to this sort of event. I am suggesting that once clamped a significant fine is levied on the vehicle owner/driver if they wish to get their vehicle back and to be able to continue their journey.

    Clamping plus fine would work.

  5. councils homelessness policy does not contain adequate consideration and protection for the environment. Campers in public spaces can be moved on if they are considered a public nuisance threat , or acting illegally but not on the grounds of destruction of the environment ….Why ? There are very few dune camps that do not damage the dunes and comprimise its ability to regenerate etc. At main Beach I would say 70% of the campers are homeless …some of these longer term homeless camps are pretty low impact but most have considerable impact and some are shockers …rubbsh everwhere, smashed trees , excavations , clearings , erosive gullies from foot traffic etc.
    Campers pretty much know on the grapevine ( social media) that if they claim homelessness they are assurred of being undisturbed for up to months . Council under its protocols must attempt to find accomodation ( which doesnt exist ) police must be coordinated with rangers to enable enforcement , and if the camper is not ‘at home ‘ when the police finally get do arrive then they get to stay put until the whole cumbersome wheel turns over again. In the ‘old days’ (say 10 yrs ago ) camping in the dunes at Main Beach had small impact but now its a real environmental problem ( that has in large part , a socio-ecomomic cause ). Because revegetation and regeneration have been so successful there is little to notice from the beach or the grassed reserve but the vegetation can only take so much damage and mistreatment before campers will become very much in everyones face . Miles Shorten

  6. Disgusting pigs they are. Moved on from Byron bay, now its Brunswick heads problem Thankyou Byron shire council. Have a un happy holiday.. Where you move them now ? Wooyong area. No doubt.

  7. My comment is not intended to offend or upset genuinely homeless people. We have a serious problem with illegal campers (‘van packers’) out the back of Bayside. Apart from the serious environmental impacts, there are now social and security issues. We no longer have quiet enjoyment of our properties – campers are using residential front yard garden taps to fill their large water containers, and when questioned or confronted are abusive and threatening to residents. Just a few days ago I observed a couple in a white van drive out of the bush at around midday, stop in the middle of Bayside Way, jump the fence of an unattended area under development and begin to fill their numerous large plastic water containers in full view of passing traffic. Locals are starting to install heavy duty locks on their front taps. I do not feel safe to go out the front of my house at night in case there are campers using our tap or disposing of their unsorted garbage into our bins (this happens regularly and I have informed Council) – to confront them leads to threats and abuse. We have lived here since 2003 and have, along with many other locals, regularly walked our dogs out behind the houses – we can no longer do this because we are confronted with threats, abuse or attacks by campers’ dogs. There are regularly fires burning out there at night. Fences have been erected to keep them out of what was a beautiful pristine area of natural beauty, but the van packers simply drive over them or cut them down. The pre-school has had break-ins and campers sleeping in the children’s play houses etc. It is getting to the point that we do not feel safe and have concerns about the fronts of our properties, and we despair at the damage being done to the beautiful natural environment we used to able to enjoy.

  8. If the well known campers on foot aren’t attacking locals who live in the area then there fine but Lingerers of the night or day could make any one worried for there safety hearing bad stuff on the News all the time

  9. There should be a place like a refuge or community camping ground made for homeless if only more people would donate
    Tourists and vans damaging land should be under national parks and wild life’s jobs and police for dangerous Loyter,ers who can hurt more than just plants if a place is not made for these type of people I can imagine?


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