Beach users in Lennox Head are reporting much higher numbers of 4WDs on Seven Mile Beach recently, along with an increase in hooning behaviour.
Since the closure of South Ballina Beach to most 4WD vehicles earlier this year, Seven Mile Beach (just south of Byron Shire, on the northern end of Ballina Shire Council’s area of responsibility) has now become a 4WD highway on sunny days, especially since the relaxation of COVID lockdowns.
The issue has been debated at Ballina Shire Council several times, with nothing substantial being done so far, and the majority of councillors choosing to delay action until the issue is considered as part of the forthcoming Coastal Reserve Plan of Management.
Other beach users left in the lurch
Regular beach visitor Judy Blood told The Echo 4WD numbers have exploded since the most recent lockdown ended.
Hoping to walk her dog as she had in the past, she said of that first post-lockdown weekend, ‘I expected there would be more than normal numbers of people on Lennox Head beach, but I thought that would suit my dog, who has been hungry for some company.
‘When I arrived the beach was crowded with 4WDs as far as you could see. The tide was high so there was only a narrow strip for humans, dogs, horses… and hulking great vehicles ploughing up what little sand there was.
‘The tyre ruts were very deep at times and had to be stepped over with care. The amount of churning was extraordinary and it made me think of all the sub-terrestrial sand critters and micro critters that keep the sand alive and healthy.
‘Often tyres got caught up in the sand and there would be wheels spinning and sand flying. Often they drove far too fast for a beach littered with dogs and kids. There was always a vehicle arriving or leaving. There was a constant ebb and flow of vehicles.
‘Sometimes a whole stream would come through as if groups of families and friends were travelling in convoy,’ she said.
‘There was no sense of being free and relaxed on our beach walk,’ said Ms Blood. ‘You were always calculating where the dogs and the vehicles were to ensure their safety. Two horses came through. I was wondering how they were handling the terrain and the constant movement of cars.
‘I walked in the water because walking on the chewed-up sand was an onerous task with its peaks and troughs.’
While Ms Blood said there was generally a festive atmosphere, and people were happy to be out and about and soaking up the warmth and sea air, the increased level of 4WD-related damage was worrying, and clearly a result of the closure of beaches further south to 4WDs, in large part because of the associated environmental damage.
‘They are all coming to Lennox Head now, doing even more damage to that precious beach. Why are 4WDs on the beach? Why can’t they just park and walk like everyone else?’
Independent Ballina Councillor Jeff Johnson has been arguing for an overhaul of the existing permit system to limit 4WD numbers on the beach.
Judy Blood believes it’s time for a harder line on 4WDs in sensitive areas. ‘It’s time they were banned from all beaches around Australia. The only argument I could think for allowing one on a beach is for the disabled. And I imagine that loophole would be well scammed.
‘Time to bite the bullet,’ she said.
The following video shows 4WDs thronging the beach on the first day out of lockdown, leaving very little room for other beach users:
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