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Byron Shire
February 29, 2024

Bruem pushes Ballina council to debate 4WDs on beaches again

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South Ballina Beach. Photo Ballina Beach Village

After two years of four-wheel drive [4WD] access restrictions to South Ballina’s beach, the Ballina Shire Council is to debate a review of the system this Thursday.

Independent Councillor Rodney Bruem has moved for the council to work with ‘relevant NSW government agencies’ to consider the feasibility of introducing camera surveillance at the beach instead of relying on a locked gate both physically and by policy against recreational fishers.

Cameras are currently used at Seven Mile Beach at Lennox Head, also in the Ballina Shire, where recreational fishing is allowed.

But the more open policy led to accusations of over-use by 4WDs during pandemic restrictions and concerns for wildlife, human and domestic pet safety.

Seven Mile Beach left exposed to 4WD ‘hoons’

Four-wheel driving on beaches south of Ballina in 2020 – Coastal Defenders Network video screenshot

Independent Cr Jeff Johnson failed to get majority council support to restrict 4WD access at Lennox Head last year, after speaking out repeatedly on the matter and describing interstate‘hoons’ as disrespecting Ballina’s beaches.

Picturesque scenes of wildlife returning to the beach were reported when it was briefly closedowing to adverse weather forecasts earlier this year.

Three other current councillors were on the council and voted against Cr Johnson’s last failed motion on the matter in the term ending late last year: independent Crs Sharon Cadwallder, Phillip Meehan and Stephen McCarthy.

But Cr Cadwallader, now the mayor, has spoken in the past of concerns about 4WDs on the beach at South Ballina.

‘Multi-agency’ protection at South Ballina, home to endangered Pied Oyster Catcher

Dead pied oystercatcher at South Ballina Beach in 2020, prior to beach access restrictions. Photo Coastal Defenders Network.

Access to the beach at South Ballina has been restricted to commercial fishers, emergency services and indigenous community members for the past two years thanks to what Greens Member for Ballina Tamara Smith described as a ‘multi-agency’ decision at the time.

Ms Smith had spoken out about 4WD destruction on the beach prior to the state’s administrative move, while concerns about equine use of the beach had also been expressed.

The restrictions have been hotly debated in council chambers before, mostly thanks to former Cr Keith Williams, as well as in the broader community in recent years.

The council has previously voted to protect the beach, along with Patchs Beach, from 4WDs.

The Echo has also previously received messages of support for protection of the South Ballina beach from the local First Nations community and advice on threats to the Pied Oyster Catcher population.

Bruem notes system’s success but moves to change it

Cr Rod Bruem. Photo David Lowe.

Cr Bruem’s notice of motion in the agenda for this week’s November ordinary Ballina Shire Council meeting showed he considered the restrictions ‘successful’ in terms of ‘limiting excessive 4WD traffic, anti-social behaviour and environmental damage’.

Cr Bruem also noted residents were ‘mostly satisfied with the change’.

But the independent councillor said there were concerns the regulations had ‘unfairly impacted on recreational fishers, especially those who are senior or have mobility issues’.

A camera and permit system would provide for better management and protection, Cr Bruem said, since residents reportedly said the gate was ‘often left unlocked and open to all’.

There were no restrictions or monitoring of traffic accessing the beach from Richmond Valley Shire, Cr Bruem said.

‘Synching the system with Council’s permit system at Seven Mile Beach could potentially allow for limited access by local recreational fishers who feel they’ve paid a heavy price for the behaviour of others, mostly residents from outside the Ballina Shire’, Cr Bruem said in notes on his motion.

Independent cr cites support from Nationals minister

The independent concluded his notes by saying he had the support of NSW Minister for Better Regulation and Innovation Kevin Anderson.

Mr Anderson had written to the council saying Crown Lands was ‘amenable to Ballina Shire operating a permit system’, Cr Bruem said.

‘Further consultation with state agencies should ascertain whether state funds may be obtained if required for establishment costs,’ he said.

Council staff warn against ‘cost-shifting’ beach management

South Ballina beach dunes at high tide. Photo supplied.

Staff notes on the motion said the ‘consistent position of Council’ on South Ballina Beach access had been to defer to state authority.

‘The management of the beach and 4WD access, including any decisions on special access, is a matter for the State Government (specifically Crown Lands and NPWS), as Council is not the land manager for this area of the coastline,’ staff notes read.

Staff said there were ‘significant land management and resourcing implications associated with the beach’, including the presence of ‘threatened fauna species and Aboriginal cultural heritage values’.

Management of beach access arrangements was also ‘more difficult and resource consuming’ where a ‘broader array of user groups’ was granted access, staff said.

There was a need to be ‘very cautious about the shifting of responsibilities and cost, in any reconsideration of the previous decisions of Council’, staff said, as well as ‘redirection of resources away’ from their ‘already substantial land management tasks’.

Staff recommended that if the council was inclined to support the notice of motion, any approach was ‘framed in such a way that Council is inviting the State Government to revisit matters’.

The carefully worded request was to prevent ‘committing Council resources to initiatives that are not currently within the endorsed Delivery Program and Operational Plan or within the land management jurisdiction of Council’, staff notes said.

Students flock to South Ballina’s new wildlife beach haven for outdoor learning

Pied oystercatcher looking for food, South Ballina Beach – photo supplied

The organiser of a campaign to protect South Ballina’s beach, Megan Ward, wrote to The Echo saying there was no place for 4WD’s on beach ecosystems.

Ms Ward said the beach was ‘entering a new era as a valuable teaching resource’.

Local high school students were being invited there ‘for educational beach walks’, Ms Ward said, with ‘primary schools now learning about shorebird and coastal ecology’.

‘This is something that our own mayor Sharon Cadwallader is fully aware of and supports,’ Ms Ward said.

‘Perhaps Ballina Council efforts could be looking at how to enhance this environmental resource for all the community, rather than monetising it and destroying it for a select few,’ the campaigner said.

South Ballina beach was one of the last remaining beaches providing a sanctuary ‘for many endangered shore birds and other marine life’, Ms Ward wrote, ‘including being the key habitat for the critically endangered Pied Oyster Catcher’.

Ms Ward said all key stakeholders had agreed to close the beach to vehicles ‘following ongoing dangers to other beachgoers, including families and the elderly’.

The campaigner said she recognised the beach’s closure had caused ‘some recreational fishers to feel they may have been disadvantaged’, but that ‘many understand why this had to happen’.

‘They were thankful they had experienced it yet understood the nature of human beings, where there will always be some who ruin it for others,’ Ms Ward wrote.

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  1. I walked up Seven mile Beach yesterday and there were multiple 4wds well past the point on the beach at the border between Ballina and Byron Shire – where there is a sign saying they are not allowed. If there are permits, they are treating them with contempt.

  2. Time to stop all beach private vehicular traffic. Times have past the good old days. We now have a motorway connecting the area with 5 million folks in the Brisbane , Gold Coast area. We are no longer a secluded community.
    This also goes right across the board to other activities that were manageable 20 years back. Adapting to our changing environment is our only chance for a fair result.

  3. This is just more grandstanding from Cr. Bruem, one of our Nationals councillors hiding behind independent cloaks, his last big promise was to build the Dunoon dam wasn’t it, whatever happened to that? Anyway it’s not up to the Council to reintroduce 4wds on any beach, that power rests with the State Govt., and that looks like changing next year.

  4. I’m always a little perplexed with past and present pics of splattered, bloody seabirds on this particular beach.
    Always they are nowhere near any 4WD tire-tracks (unless expressly placed in them on purpose.)
    Hugely emotive and definitely newsworthy.
    But could these photos be actually staged by anti beach access supporters?
    Because birds will move if a vehicle or person is near them – then they fly elsewhere.
    The usual anti-4WD propaganda continues on this subject it seems.

    • Wrong again, and demonstrates your ignorance. There are actually dozens of instances. I have seen dead pied oystercatchers on a beach in a national park killed by a 4wd – the 1st time there were only two vehicles on an 8km stretch of beach at low tide, yet still hit one! Pied oystercatchers are an endangered species confined to our shorelines with no where else to go, and big enough to be clearly seen. Running over one would have to be either deliberate bastardry or gross negligence.
      And a quick lesson in avian matters: not every bird species acts and behaves the same way to threats, and even within species, not every bird of the same species behaves the same way every time.
      But hey, just so long as you get to drive your massive 4wd wherever and whenever you want just for fun, stuff the environment and who cares about impacts?
      Unlike the south coast where ALL vehicles are banned on ALL beaches.

      • No I do not drive on “your” beaches N.See, but yes – I am a recreational inland fisher.
        Surely a paid permit system seems to be the way to solve this dilemma, without all the calls of banning and hate-mail. Also – this may come a complete surprise to some – but ALL vehicles on State land in NSW have to be fully registered by law. So all you Antis need to do is :- spot the Rego #, make & colour of the alleged offending vehicle and then dob these vandals in to the police/ council.
        How hard is that ?
        But it seems some folk prefer total bans on practically everything.]

        • Lol, of course the birds will know which vehicles have permits.
          Permits and licences have solved everything haven’t they? No more driving or vehicle offences, no gun crime or firearms accidents, no illegal fishing etc.
          And just like with regular crime, perpetrators are unlikely to do these things in full view of the general public. It doesn’t happen at main beach in front of the car park! It’s absurd to present that as the solution when I expect the only witnesses would be their like-minded mates.
          I merely pointed out the south coast example because it is a privilege to drive on beaches, definitely not a right or a necessity, and when the impacts become excessive, privileges can and should be withdrawn. They don’t have these issues on the south coast with the same bird species. All irrelevant and academic now Ballina Council has voted to uphold their previous vehicle prohibition decision for the obvious management and environmental benefits.
          And I never claimed ownership of any beaches, how did you manage to twist that interpretation?

          • Community policing combined with a paid permit scheme + ranger patrols can work wonders on driver behaviour, even on beaches.
            If you have ‘actually’ seen ‘dozens of instances’- I would advise you take photos next time and also report the crime.
            Did you?
            If not, you could be actively contributing to the problem…

    • Well Rob L, looking at the pic of the splattered bloody pied oystercatcher, obviously the only conceivable explanation is that they were clubbed on the spot by an environmental activist trying to sway public opinion to prove some point. That makes as much sense as your claim.
      But hang on, how did that environmental activist get close enough to a bird that “will move if a person is near them then fly elsewhere”? hmm.
      The usual nonsense & stupidity trying to justify the unjustifiable continues on this subject it seems.
      What’s next? will you claim it was staged / photoshopped / placed there because you’ve never seen one?

      • Yes, I strongly suspect news-worthy death-pics of these lovely, protected birds have also been stage-managed in the past.
        I remember well one ‘4WD death” [depicted on page one by another local newspaper] of an intact bird obviously placed into 4WD tracks on soft sand. The paper later admitted the photo was ‘supplied by a conservation organisation’ and promised to be more circumspect in future.
        I am unable to comment the techniques of photo-shopping, but it can be equally/even more deceptive.

  5. No Rob L, it’s not propaganda, unlike that promoted by National Party stooge Bruem (like Cadwallader and others in Ballina and Lismore councils calling themselves ‘independents’, an obvious lie, who are backed by the Nats to get control of these councils… a well known tactic also in the Tweed where a state inquiry years ago found this to be the case and sacked that council years ago. I have seen 4WDs not only tear up and impact on beach wildlife locally but also arrogantly block emergency-vehicle access to beaches and, when told they shouldn’t, turned to say they could ‘do what they effing liked’. That’s the type of people abusing this, and the types the Nats like Bruem love.

  6. Vehicles of any type and beaches are a destructive, disastrous and dangerous mix and should not be allowed, with a few exceptions and recreational fishing should not be one of them. Let’s be clear here, we’re talking about a precious zone of nature which serves to protect the adjacent land, provide a transition zone and nurture wildlife of many forms; human activity should not hinder or destroy these. It has happened, but let’s not continue this madness.
    It’s so short-sighted that critics of people supporting the integrity of beaches are lambasted as emotive and using propaganda. Will you feel happy when the beaches are so churned up by 4WDs that they’re a total mess, the wildlife has gone and people are talking about how the far north coast “used to be” so lovely?
    Governments and the community – all – should take responsibility, and act now to stop vehicles destroying our beaches.

  7. The pied oyster catcher is of least concern on the internationally recognised IUCN endangered species list. Not that I would be a proponent of seeing these beautiful birds disappearing in any significant way but I think the ‘endangered’ claims might be overstated. I have never had the privilege to drive on this beach but it looks super special in the photos. I understand that we need to preserve the majority of coastal areas in NSW, but it would be nice if we could leave a few smalls spots for mixed use activities. Same goes with national parks. Connecting people with public lands is really important for their long term preservation, we should try to promote mixed use in small, suitable, controlled areas where it’s possible.

    • News Flash Lloyd! They are listed as Endangered under NSW legislation since 2010, having been listed as Vulnerable since the mid-1990s, as their NSW population declined from 232 known birds total in October 1998. The stronghold of this species in NSW is between the Richmond and Clarence Rivers, with up to 23 breeding pairs, and up to 70 birds in total.
      The IUCN is a GLOBAL scientific advisory body with no legal authority or legislative ability, dealing on a global scale. The global population of Pied Oystercatcher is possibly 11,000, with up to 90% (10,000) occurring in Australia but undoubtedly in decline.

      There are also two breeding pairs of the Critically Endangered Beach Stone Curlew nesting in this same area, one of only eight known sites in NSW, with a state population of less than 30 birds. Their total Australian population is estimated at 5,000, with the global population estimated to be between 10,000-25,000 and also undoubtedly in decline.
      Neither species are listed as threatened under Commonwealth legislation, but the Beach Stone Curlew as listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN.

      The majority of the NSW coastline is not protected. It might come as a surprise, but you actually looked at the management of National Parks you would find they do aim to connect people with public lands AND promote mixed use in small controlled areas to limit the impacts of people and their management is defined by legislation. National Parks are primarily created for nature protection and conservation, with human associated impacts their biggest threats. People always have somewhere else to go, nature does not.

      • ‘And I never claimed ownership of any beaches, how did you manage to twist that interpretation?’
        Re-read your last diatribe perhaps…


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