The state government is privatising a public asset with its plan for commercial racehorse training on the beaches between Warrnambool and Port Fairy, a former federal MP says.
Kelvin Thomson, the former federal Member for Wills in Melbourne and a frequent visitor to Port Fairy, said having racehorses training on beaches was incompatible with other beach uses.
“It is not safe,” Mr Thomson said.
“Racehorses are not permitted on beaches around the world.”
Mr Thomson said he feared other beach users would go somewhere else rather than compete with racehorses for access to the beaches.
Mr Thomson said the government’s plan also undid a lot of good work it had done over decades to protect hooded plovers that nest on the beaches in the area. The bird’s conservation status is listed as vulnerable.
Ten per cent of the bird’s population nested on the beaches between Warrnambool and Port Fairy and about 50 per cent of the chicks that survived for the entire population were born in the area, he said.
Mr Thomson, who has done the Mahogany Walk from Warrnambool to Port Fairy several times, said the area where the hooded plover nested was above the tidal zone and was narrow, leaving the eggs and birds vulnerable to racehorses going past at speed.
Belfast Coastal Reserve Action Group (BCRAG) spokesman Bill Yates said training racehorses on beaches went against what the coastal reserve was set up for, which was passive recreation and conservation.
He said the plan breached the federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
Mr Yates said BCRAG was working with Birdlife Australia, the Victorian National Parks Association and Environmental Justice Australia to scrap the plan and legal action was among the avenues being explored.
BCRAG member and former Goanna band frontman, Shane Howard, said the the plan would damage the regional tourism industry that brought in hundreds of millions of dollars.
“The main reason that tourists come to this area is its pristine beaches,” he said.