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.
‘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.’
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.