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.’
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.
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
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
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.
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.’
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.