Stephen Totterman of the Coastal Defenders Network has been looking at YouTube evidence of the ongoing issues with 4WDs on the beach south of the Richmond River.
In a study of 56 publicly accessible videos shot over the last five years he found numerous cases of people documenting their own bad behaviour, including rock-driving, driving on beach dunes, driving in illegal locations and hooning (speeding, wheel spins and racing).
He also found numerous documented cases of dogs being taken outside dog zones, riding of dirt bikes and quad bikes, and illegal camping.
There are numerous cases of endangered birds being frightened and their nests threatened.
Mr Totterman said in an accompanying email to decision-makers, ‘Only a minority of four wheel drivers record their adventures, few upload videos to the internet, and fewer still publish their videos on YouTube.
‘Therefore the results are not necessarily representative of 4WDs on South Ballina Beach. They do, however, indicate that four wheel driving and camping are popular attractions and four wheel drivers like to bring their dogs.’
Existing enforcement not working
Mr Totterman says the problem is that authorities are failing to control numbers of 4WDs on the beach and will continue to do so while beach driving is allowed.
‘There was an enforcement blitz on the 3-5 October 2020 long weekend, yet rock driving, dune driving, taking dogs on to the beach and camping continued,’ he said.
He says that the closure of the Keith Hall, Moylans Lane and Patchs Beach 4WD access tracks has not solved the problem, as there are ‘many informal 4WD tracks’ into the beachfront Crown reserve.
Mr Totterman also says there’s a clear correlation between increased 4WD activity and decreased numbers of locally endangered pied oystercatchers, and ‘the only solution is to the negative social and environmental impacts is to lock the beach to 4WDs.’
Traditional owners also concerned
Ballina Bundjalung man Eli Cook, whose family has a very long connection with the area, spoke to Echonetdaily last week about a petition for a Bundjalung Cultural Centre at Ballina. He’s also concerned about the southern beaches being trashed by 4WDs.
‘As part of that petition, me and my brother recently did a walk from Evans Head to South Ballina, over three days. We camped in behind the dunes and what we saw was that those dunes have been demolished, run over, trampled, completely smashed – they’ll never be as they were,’ he said.
‘There’s still cars yahooing and donutting all up and down the beach, there’s motorbikes driving all over the dunes, it’s still getting thrashed.’
Of the drivers damaging the beaches he said, ‘It’s people that don’t know better, they’re young and they’ve got flash cars they want to flog for some reason.
‘All of the local people in my opinion who use the beach for fishing and all that sort of stuff, they do the right thing. It’s a shame for those people who miss out, but you’ve got to draw a line in the sand somewhere,’ he said.
‘That South Ballina Beach does need some recovery, it’s been thrashed for a long time.’
Echonetdaily sought comment from government authorities about the issues raised above.
A spokesperson for the Department of Planning Industry and Environment – Crown Lands, sent the following bullet points through:
- Crown Lands has closed the 4WD beach access point at Keith Hall Lane at Keith Hall, and will consult with the community on closing the other access point it manages at Empire Vale Road at South Ballina.
- Four wheel drivers should abide by the beach access policies of Ballina Shire and Richmond Valley Councils to ensure public safety and protect the environment.
- These include clear advice on speed restrictions, maintaining distances from pedestrians, not driving above the high tide water mark, avoiding sensitive areas including dunes, and ensuring rubbish is not left behind.
- Any inappropriate and dangerous 4WD activity should be reported to NSW Police.
- Crown Lands is working with Ballina Shire Council, Richmond Valley Council and NPWS to manage access to the beach.
The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) said, ‘NPWS is working with Crown Lands, NSW Police and local Government on the management of 4WD usage in the South Ballina location.’
Map and screenshots courtesy Coastal Defenders Network
More stories about 4WDs on South Ballina Beach
An attempt to enlarge the list of approved 4WD beach users allowed to access South Ballina Beach failed to get the numbers to progress at the last Ballina Shire Council meeting.
At today's Ballina Council meeting, Cr Keith Williams is going to urge council to write to the NSW Minister for Crown Lands about South Ballina beach, which has recently been closed to public 4WD access.
The closure of South Ballina Beach and Evans Head to 4WDs and other vehicles has been met with a mixed response.
The debate about the future of the beaches south of Ballina is heating up again as councils and concerned citizens grapple with the ongoing issue of 4WD-related damage.
Stephen Totterman from Coastal Defenders Network said the National Parks and Wildlife Service's response to his concerns about 4WD impacts on the pied oystercatcher population on the beaches south of Ballina is 'unsatisfactory'.