Horse influx contributes to hooded plover deaths in Belfast Coastal Reserve, says group

A hooded plover.
A hooded plover.

THE deaths of 10 out of 11 endangered hooded plover chicks born along a beach popular with racehorse trainers over the past season has angered a local environmental group.

Far West Friends of the Hooded Plover co-ordinator Toni Ryan said the presence of horses at Golfies, which stretches from Port Fairy Golf Club towards East Beach, had “definitely” had an impact on chick survival.

Ms Ryan said some of the deaths were caused by off-leash dogs and contact with horses, but the influx of horses into the area had also dispersed other activities further along the coast.

“It’s not that the horses physically killed (all) the chicks but (horses are) one of the biggest factors,” Ms Ryan said.

“(The influx of horses meant) people were pushed into other areas, particularly dog owners.”

She said horses had also been witnessed riding into prohibited areas.

“We had horse trainers using beyond where they were supposed to go near Mills Reef,” Ms Ryan said.

“Even though there were signs up to say there were areas where there were chicks ... they still rode through those areas, within metres of nesting sites. When (hooded plovers are) born they have to get access down to the tideline to feed. In some cases (they were killed) by direct contact, and in some cases the chick can’t get to the shoreline (because of the horse activity) and it starves.

“(Trainers) continue to call the beach ‘a facility’ – they’re forgetting that it’s a habitat. These birds don’t go anywhere else. They’re indigenous to the beach. I’d like to see that factored into the decision-making.”

A Parks Victoria spokesperson said they could not confirm the number of chick deaths until “the data has been analysed”.

Less than 600 birds remain in Victoria, with the hooded plover considered “very rare in terms of abundance and distribution” and “significantly prone to future threats which are likely to result in extinction”, according to the Parks Victoria website. The Belfast Coastal Reserve has the highest concentration of hooded plovers in the state.

South West Owners, Trainers & Riders Association (SWOTRA) representative Tammy Good said she didn’t know about any bird deaths in the area but it was “clutching at straws” to blame the horses for increased dog activity in other areas. She added that despite the Greens blocking legislation in parliament, horse trainers were abiding by the state government’s suggested regulations.