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Byron Shire
April 19, 2024

Beaches being trashed, but who is responsible?

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Coastal Defenders Network Inc. video screenshot of 4WD on beach south of Ballina

Irresponsible 4WD users are again trashing South Ballina Beach and Patches Beach, as well as areas further south. Local resident Megan Ward has contacted Echonetdaily about the ‘out of control riots’ that are now happening in the area, with no rangers to control the situation.

‘The people can no longer walk along or enjoy the beach,’ she said. ‘The endangered birds can not feed. The dunes and habitat are being destroyed.’

Coastal Defenders

This recent video from the Coastal Defenders Network shows irresponsible and destructive four wheel driving practices on the stretch south from South Ballina Beach.

Another video from the Coastal Defenders Network shows the massive number of 4WDs driving on to the beach in a three hour stretch last year.

Patch’s Beach shorebird warning sign – supplied

Ms Ward said camp fires are being lit in the protected littoral land next to the four wheel drive beach access, and dogs are being taken into areas clearly signposted ‘no dogs’, but nothing is being done about this, or the other environmental damage along the beaches down to the Richmond Valley Council boundary, most of which is Crown land.

Who’s in charge?

The problem seems to be that the area south of the Richmond River falls into a grey area in terms of management. Ms Ward said she asked Ballina Council to manage the area, which is in their ward, but they said that it wasn’t their responsibility.

She contrasted this with Richmond Valley Council, which took over managing coastal areas in their ward from Crown lands, and are successfully managing the beaches from the south of Boundary Creek Road.

According to Ms Ward, RVC ‘are also becoming upset with the total lack of care of the beaches north of them, and have increased their rangers to cope with what is happening as a consequence on their stretch, [which is] also pushing the poor behaviour back on to South Ballina beaches. Something needs to be done before there is personal injury.’

Ballina Shire Council

Convoy of 4WDs on the beach – supplied

Echonetdaily spoke to Cheyne Willebrands, Manager Open Spaces for Ballina Shire Council about the issue.

Mr Willebrands said, ‘Ballina Shire Council is disappointed to hear 4WD beach users are not behaving appropriately on South Ballina Beach. Although we do not manage or monitor South Ballina beaches we do work closely with both Crown Lands NSW and NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, who are the land managers.​

‘We also take the community’s concerns into consideration and in March 2020 Councillors again resolved to lobby the land managers in respect to the implementation of a permit system/regulatory control at South Ballina to more proactively manage 4WDs on South Ballina beaches.

‘We look forward to again working with these agencies and key stakeholders to improve South Ballina beach safety and amenity. In the meantime, Council will continue to advocate safe 4WD activity on South Ballina beaches.’

Access points closed

More irresponsible four-wheel driving on beaches south of Ballina – Coastal Defenders Network video screenshot

Mr Willebrands concluded his statement by noting that, ‘following 4WD access changes due to COVID-19, Crown Lands NSW decided to keep the Moylans Lane and Keith Hall Lane 4WD beach access points closed until further notice due to safety and environmental reasons.’

Ballina Council is urging all 4WD users to follow its code of conduct for beach driving.

Echonetdaily sought comment from NSW Crown Lands, who are yet to respond, and the National Parks Service of NSW.

A spokesperson for NPWS explained that the affected beaches are outside the jurisdiction of National Parks, apart from the Richmond River Nature Reserve section of the beach immediately south of the river.

can on beach
South Ballina Beach. Photo supplied by Coastal Defenders Network Inc.

The spokesperson said, ‘The Reserve provides four-wheel drive vehicle access to South Ballina Beach.

‘Four-wheel-driving is not permitted on the beach north of the four-wheel drive beach access point to protect threatened shorebird habitat. The minimum fine for four-wheel driving within this zone is $300.’

NSW political intervention?

At the state government level, Ballina MP Tamara Smith has previously vowed to do something about 4WDs trashing South Ballina Beach, many of them driving down from Queensland on weekends to do so.

Today Ms Smith told Echonetdaily that she remains concerned about the impact of 4WD’s on South Ballina and Patch’s beach. ‘There are environmental and social impacts that need to be urgently addressed. Vegetation and the dune systems on South Ballina beaches are protected land under State legislation as well as being key management sites for endangered species like the Australian Pied Oyster Catchers.’

Ballina Greens MP Tamara Smith. Photo Tree Faerie.

Ms Smith said the first port of call for relevant decision makers should be an assessment of the impact of excessive numbers of 4WD vehicles on the environment of the South Ballina beaches. She noted that humans are also in danger from excess vehicles on the beach, particularly at dusk and dawn.


‘I am reliably informed by local environmentalists that during the closures due to COVID there was a huge reprieve for vulnerable bird species and their food sources,’ Ms Smith said. ‘Locals saw massive increases in the number of Pied Oyster Catchers and mixed species flocks of birds – a vision totally extraordinary when vehicles are entering the beach.

‘What we need is to close the South Ballina beaches for at least six months and allow ecologists to do a proper impact assessment and make a recommendation moving forward. We need to make sure that whatever access is given to vehicles (if any) that it is monitored and compliance is enforced so as to prevent further ecological damage,’ Ms Smith concluded.

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  1. Sad thing is, I’m not surprised. We are a redneck, racist nation that has no respect.

    Australian’s don’t deserve this country.

  2. Oh woe is us. The damage to the beach and surrounding environment is really a metaphor for the broader cultural, environmental and road havoc wrought by SUV’s and the now ubiquitous dual cab. SUV and dual cab owners are not the only group that do environmental damage, but these vehicles are the essential accoutrement of a particular kind of mentality that succumb to the advertising – and that tells them that in their “trucks” they are invincible and answerable to no-one. They are a blight on urban roads the world over – especially in places like Adelaide where for many, every encounter with another car is a war, to be won or lost.
    An SUV or dual cab means those “wars” can be won. Moreover, the fringe benefits tax exemption that enables so many to salary package dual cab utes using novated leases remains one of the most vulgar and unnecessary exemptions. The economic effect of that FBT exemption is the equivalent of someone who uses their “truck” little, if at all for actual work getting a 100% tax deduction for the costs of their vehicle. There are supposed to be restrictions on non-work use where “trucks” are packaged, but those restrictions are mostly completely ignored by employers (who are supposed to police this) and the Tax Office. The FBT exemption is one reason for the huge and growing popularity of such vehicles at a time when the world should be moving in the opposite direction. Time to start pricing these vehicles off the road and policing their abuse of areas that they should not be driving in unless they can be more adult instead of little boys.

  3. Well said (first 2 comments). I have for many years hated 4×4 vehicles on the sth ballina beach, any really.most are boneheads toward nature. And the #@$#% that let their dogs chase the nesting birds there, they are so unaware,their dogs have more brains then them and ! dont drive on the beach.

  4. This story is really disturbing and speaks about the attitudes of some people who have never been inspired to take care of our surroundings for the benefit of all living beings. Please don’t take the focus off the people and shift it to the types of vehicles. I love my duel cab but would never drive it on a beach.

  5. Life is difficult enough for our endangered shorebirds, long migrations, predators and poor management of their habitat. Thanks for highlighting the plight of our local coastal ecosystems , they need our attention. I would hope that we might be able to provide 4WD enthusiasts with some less damaging ways of exploring and enjoying our coastal landscapes. As a local environmental research scientist I appreciate the challenges of protecting our amazing and unique ecosystems, and I am grateful for the work of Megan and her passionate community members.

  6. I often like to drive down South Ballina beach with a few mates and the kids. Have a bbq, cast a line.
    There are a lot of us who treat the place with respect. It’s a shame that some people have to go and ruin it.
    Easy solution, registration and regulation.

  7. Regarding Mr Willebrands comments, Ballina Shire Council have been aware of this happening for years and have chosen to do nothing about it. No one manages this land, and to say National Parks and Wildlife and National Parks do, is not correct and gives an insight into how much they don’t care.

    One can not speak of safety and the environment when you continue to allow unrestricted and unmonitored 4WD use on the beaches. And at the same time seemingly to be completely ignoring the fact that these are vegetation protected lands, with endangered species with an identified area of high biodiversity value through the littoral forests that provide a corridor up the east coast of NSW.

    By not immediately closing the beaches to 4WD and engaging a ecological study of the impact of 4WD’s on these beaches you are putting much at risk. And not meeting the council requirements of having a coastal management plan.

  8. Why are vehicles allowed on the beach…ridiculous. Roads are for vehicles. Vehicles dominate our towns, cities and villages. The beach and bush are places to enjoy nature. Some enlightened countries ( of which Australia is not one) have begun to curtail vehicular access to natural places of beauty, and also banned them from city centres, with very positive outcomes. Why is it necessary to encourage the minority of challenged people who seek only to destroy, just for their personal pleasure and to stroke their pathetic egos. Time for “the authorities” to show some leadership. The recent lock down gave a glimpse of what the world could be like without the domination of vehicles, particularly 4WD.

  9. Never mind the ecologists assessment, let’s move into the modern world and ban ALL motorised vehicles from the beaches. It’s just a repeat of the problem, we have at Tyagarah Nature Reserve, Brunswick Heads, where no one wants to take any responsibility and just passes the buck.

  10. l think the police should patrol the beaches when they go round the town they might catch these goons doing this damage to the beach and wild life, they have no respect for anyone except themselves.

  11. The only way to protect our precious environment from selfish & irresponsible 4×4 drivers & dog owners, who consistently ignore warning signs & regulations, is to close the beaches completely. The environment is too fragile, & its inhabitants already too threatened, to allow such damage to continue.

  12. I disagree that RVC is doing a better job than BSC. Airforce Beach (Evans Head) too was a mess last weekend (and every weekend). The BSC decision to progress permits was one sided. The one paragraph of background info in the meeting agenda was inadequate The motion was only for permits. There was no consideration of other options. One deputation was given in favour of permits. Next, Council tried to rush permits in place before reopening the beach after the temporary Covid-19 closure (which was a beautiful time to be on the beach). 4WDs have opened up a 4.5 m gap in the Moylans Lane access and are driving through it almost daily. BSC and Crown Lands have been notified of this breach weeks ago and have done nothing. Keep the pressure on the authorities to Lock the Beach.

  13. It is clear that there are adverse environmental effects from the use of vehicles on beaches. The relevant regulatory body responsible for managing this area needs to be determined and action must be taken. A proper impact assessment and closure of the beach to vehicles during this time is a good start.

  14. Agreed; we must protect these areas and I fully support closing off beaches to asses ecological impact. We will destroy all that we love, and that what even brings people to drive along these beaches, if we don’t act urgently. Let’s not ruin these beautiful and last remaining habitats.

  15. I cannot see why we still allow 4WD vehicles to drive on our Australian beaches for “pleasure”, and Ballina South beach in particular. The disturbance to birdlife is only one issue, the pollution and rubbish left behind, the dogs allowed to roam freely and the NOISE are all damaging to the environment.
    Close all Ballina beaches to 4WD vehicles.

  16. We take part in shorebird counts with the Richmond Brunswick Birdwatching group. We are dismayed that people have so little regard for shorebirds and beaches. Shame on the the 4 wheel drivers who have no respect or common sense.
    Susan and Stephen Payne

  17. Our beaches should not be subjected to cars, suv’s Or 4×4’s. The seabirds nesting areas are too vulnerable.

  18. totally agree with lll fares the land. We need to give the toys away and stop paying for them with our tax dollars.

  19. I was shocked when I visited the beach between lake ainsworth and seven mile beach it was like a highway with vehicles and camps right up into the dunes.

    No beach nesting birds there any more, in fact very few birds at all and even pedestrians have to watch where they go. Some people arrived and left on bicycles for fishing etc and I thought that it had a far lesser environmental footprint.

  20. You need someone to take care of this place?
    We have been here for generations. The Nyangbul Bundjalung people are ready and willing to care for our country again. All we need is a seat at the table which has unfortunately not been offered. We are ready.

  21. This vandalism of our beaches happening all the way down to Evans Head those responsible even bragging on Facebook. Illegal camping every weekend in Broadwater National park and dogs taken into National Park. Have informed rangers taken photos of those responsible many times nothing is done. The problem is there are plenty of people who do the right thing and if you shut down the beach everyone misses out.
    The answer is a permit system as it is easier to police and more patrols. Where locals are given a discount and outsiders pay more all money going to looking after wildlife and environment in the area.

  22. The Nyangbul Bundjalung people are ready and willing to care for this place if no one else will take responsibility. We have done so for generations. Give us a seat at the table to help resolve these issues.

  23. It would be fantastic if we could get the beach closed to 4 wheel drive vehicles by the end of June. This would give the Pied Oyster catchers an opportunity to breed free from harassment whilst a longer term solution is identified.

  24. The time has come to stop driving on the beaches. There is no respect and allowing dogs into dog free areas is totally unacceptable. We need to be protecting our wildlife, beaches and environment…not allowing them to be trashed and destroyed.

  25. I’m so grateful that this issue has been identified and raised. A regulatory body must take responsibility for this area and work to tightly regulate, if not ban, the use of vehicles on these beaches. I look forward to seeing further action taken on this and will be following the progress closely.

  26. To the man that rode his bike along the beach secretly filming family’s enjoying a weekend away at the beach.

    This article is the ramblings of a lonely man with nothing better to do than hate on everyday Australians enjoying their family life.
    for example:
    Irresponsible 4WD users are again trashing South Ballina Beach and Patches Beach, as well as areas further south. Local resident Megan Ward has contacted Echonetdaily about the ‘out of control riots’ that are now happening in the area, with no rangers to control the situation.

    My family and I have been enjoying South Ballina beach for years with 4×4 driving, camping and fishing on the beach and every 4×4 driver i have come across respect the beach and only drive on the trails and tracks. the video shown is of a well used track this section can be seen via satellite south of Patches beach. No rioting to be seen.
    There is also a well placed can of Jack Daniels that would be easy to pop in your back pack for the perfect photo opportunity.
    When driving along the beach most people help by collecting washed up rubbish and they take any rubbish with them to be disposed of properly.
    I also doubt that anyone featured in this article has given permission for their photo to be taken or a video recorded of them to be used in a negative light.

    This man with the hidden camera has also been filming children playing in the dunes without consent. He should be banned from doing anymore filming to protect family’s and children from unknowingly being objectified.

    Like any sales person you only tell the story you want heard to push your product or in this case point of view.
    There is plenty of beach for everyone to share human and nature alike, there is no need for over control just guidelines that are already in place and the people that frequent South Ballina beach respect the area and the bird life that live there.

    I briefly spoke to this man that recorded these videos and you can hear some of our conversation where he is encouraging and having a laugh, i made a comment that he should have a go on his bike and he laughed saying his wheels were to thin. He was dressed as a fisherman with a very well hidden camera and i do not consent to any of my family being reordered by a stranger.

    The man secretly making these videos may be committing an offence under the privacy act and
    Section 8 of the Surveillance Devices Act 2007 NSW, if he continues to record such videos without consent the familys and the 4×4 community will be seeking legal action.

  27. I think the answer is obvious. Close the beach to vehicles of any kind. Crown Lands and NPWS need to take decisive action. Effective policing in that relatively secluded isolated area is impossible.

  28. I am totally for the closure of the beach for 4WD access. It is essential to protect the wildlife and habitats that exist within the dunes and on the beach. It is much more important to prioritise the survival of the pied oyster catchers instead of allowing four wheel drives to destroy coastal habitats and eliminate a lovely species. I have personally seen the irresponsible behaviour of these drivers, tearing up the sand and driving on the dunes at high speeds. It would be so beautiful to see the pied oyster catchers flourish in their environment and I believe the only way this can occur is if four wheel drives are prohibited here.

  29. Jessica – you dont need anyone’s permission to photograph them in a public place, it is quite lawful and there is no legal offense (apart from designated no photo areas like Bondi Beach). And while your attention to picking up rubbish etc is appreciated, there has been studies on the life under the sand, which revealed that there is thousands of small animals in a non vehicle beach, but none in a vehicle used beach, and those small sub sand animals do a great job in cleaning up the sub ground water before it gets to the sea. Just another little part of this great planets functions that should be taken into consideration (if we want the planet to keep supporting all life, including ours)

  30. Jessica, you are not identifiable in the video, the number plate is blurred, can’t see the dog in the back (because the camera is crap), I did not report you to the NPWS who could have fined you for driving in the dunes and having a dog in the National Park. I didn’t target you individually (there were a bunch of vehicles before you but I was further south and missed the ‘action’). You don’t have to target me. The reason I filmed this stuff was to demonstrate that beach driving is out of control. The NPWS have spent resources on surveillance, enforcement and closing illegal 4WD tracks but evidently these actions have not worked. Don’t take it personal. See you on the beach one day, hopefully when it’s closed to 4WDs and your kid can run free without worrying about being run over.

  31. Limiting the access of 4×4 vehicles to our precious beaches would be a huge step in the right direction to promote larger and healthier populations of the numerous shorebirds (and countless other species) that inhabit them.

  32. I have no idea why there seems to be no respect for the land and animals in this country when they are the very thing that captures the heart of all those that visit and live here. It makes no sense to ignore activities that directly damage our greatest assets, is nothing sacred anymore?

  33. I think Megan has made many valid points about the need to protect the coastal environment ahead of people’s wish to drive on the beaches. It’s time this issue was addressed.
    Why not walk on the beach instead?

  34. Having driven on these beaches for 40+ years I’m pretty clued up on the problems. The holiday periods were always the worst and I’d never bother going on to the beach in those times. The majority of users during weekdays were responsible and we were all fully aware of the pied Oyster catcher. We didn’t leave rubbish and in my case I’d always bring back a bit of rubbish to put in Patches beach access bin. A permit system should of been bought in years ago but BSC would just brush off the concerns aired to them.

    But the true trashing of the beach began once the freeway was finished from the QLD border to Ballina. Then it became open slather and the majority of cars on the beach were QLD registered.
    Dogs,doughnuts, speeding,fires,camping,rubbish,dune degradation,dead birds and a seemingly ‘I don’t really care’ attitude.

    And now the beach is closed and my pastime is gone forever but these things happen and the thought that the plague of 4WD morons and plain everyday people who just don’t care are now gone for good is a good one.
    Whether my old legs can ride a bike with rod rack and basket is another question that I’m about to find out!
    *I dearly wish it wasn’t so but that’s life, we move on.


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