THE first day of summer has seen environmentalists and commercial horse trainers square off on south-west beaches.
Members of the Belfast Coastal Reserve Action Group (BCRAG) began what they are calling a “community monitoring” program at The Cutting, The Basin, Killarney beach and Mills Reef on Thursday morning – four of the locations that fall under the State Government’s proposal for controlling horse training on beaches.
BCRAG member Shane Howard said the group’s members “weren’t trying to block carparks” or beach access but were “purely monitoring the hooded plovers and protecting their sites”.
“We’re not out to antagonise SWOTRA (South West Owners, Trainers & Riders Association),” he said.
"We’re not interested in a confrontation. But if anything illegal is done it will be reported.”
But SWOTRA representative Tammy Good said BCRAG’s “community monitoring” was a blockade by a different name and stopped trainers from using beaches.
“The BCRAG group made a public nuisance of themselves by trying to blockade the path at The Cutting … (and trying) to fill up the carparks (at Golfies, which accesses Mills Reef),” Ms Good said.
“They were wandering around with signs, which is really spooky for horses and makes it really dangerous.
“Rather than create a dangerous situation for horses, they didn’t train there. It’s really inconsiderate. They’re portraying horse trainers as a marauding mob trampling everything – it’s just wrong.”
She said she expected the battle to run all summer.
SWOTRA had agreed not to use Killarney beach from December 1 as a show of good faith.
Mr Howard praised SWOTRA for honouring that agreement.
Warrnambool Racing Club chief executive Peter Downs said the government’s plans for the licensing and capping of trainers on south-west beaches was expected to come into effect next week.
"We're confident that the rules will be ticked off in government by December 8 or before,” Mr Downs said.
“We will monitor what trainers do at Mills Reef on a random basis over the summer period to make sure things are not abused.
“We've allocated 20 trainers with the 50 licences for that period.
“We understand there may be some teething problems but if we all work together we should get a good outcome."
The government last month announced restrictions on commercial trainers using the low-impact beaches for conditioning horses after BCRAG raised safety and environmental fears.