Dog walkers rally against plans to restrict beach access in Crescent Head

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Disgruntled dog walkers on the NSW North Coast have launched a community action group against proposed ‘draconian’ management plans to restrict beach access.

The group of Crescent Head residents are angry at a proposed National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) management plan that they say prevents them from accessing local beaches and using them to walk their dogs.

A new NPWS management plan, which recently came under review, would see dogs banned from certain beach access routes and banned from previously off-leash dog walking areas.

In response, former school principal Jann Eason created the Crescent Head Dog and Walkers Group (CHDaWG).

So far, the group’s petition has garnered 1,300 signatures, or about 92% of the city’s population.

Chris Dockrill and Jann Eason started a community group to advocate for safe and appropriate beach access for them and their dogs.(ABC Mid North Coast: Alexandra Jones)

Ms Eason, who came out of retirement to advocate for fellow dog walkers, said the community could face fines for non-compliance.

“We started with a simple desire to be able to walk your dog on the beach and found the whole community was affected.”

Girl holding a ball with a dog running on the beach.
Dog walking on the beach has been a longstanding tradition for residents of Crescent Head.(Provided: Howard Piggott)

Ms Eason said an interim agreement with the NPWS has been put in place which allows residents to take their dogs in a car and walk them on a leash to the beach.

“These rules were meant to stay in place until a suitable alternative was negotiated, but the NPWS is not negotiating with us.”

CH
The CHDaWG has placed signs around town calling on the community to have a say in the review of the NPWS management plan.(ABC Mid North Coast: Alexandra Jones)

CHDaWG member Chris Dockrill, who was an early member of the now disbanded Goolawah Advisory Board, said he joined the cause out of “frustration with the march’s apparent high-handed and one-sided approach dogs”.

“We are now seeing the implementation of a management plan that will ban dogs from using beach access roads, and the NPWS simply won’t listen to the community,” he said.

Craig, a local resident, said he felt the review of the NPWS management plan was “underhanded”.

“So many people walk their dogs here and they want to prevent locals from getting there? It’s just madness,” he said.

No dogs sign
A sign at the access point at Richardsons Crossing prohibiting dogs in cars, which the community says goes against the tentative agreement.(ABC Mid North Coast: Alexandra Jones)

Conservation issues

NPWS Hastings Macleay Regional Director Shane Robinson said the team “did their best to find the right balance” between community concerns and NPWS’ legal obligations to “protect conservation values”.

“We have no problem with people walking their dogs, but we don’t want domestic dogs to have an impact on conservation,” Robinson said.

“It has been reported [the issue] was contentious but needed to be resolved in order to protect the endangered shorebirds and turtles that occasionally nest on these beaches. »

But Ms Eason says the evidence provided by the NPWS on endangered species is misleading.

The group believes that the area should be classified as a regional park rather than a national park because the natural environment has been altered after intensive sand extraction from the 1950s to the 1980s.

Old historical photo of a beach scraped for sand extraction
Sand mining at Goolawah Beach in the 1960s, which provided minerals in high demand during the space race era.(Provided: Macleay River Historical Society, Macleay Argus Collection)

Local member appeals to Minister

Local state deputy Melinda Pavey said she was “appalled” by the lack of consultation from the NPWS.

Ms Pavey arranged for Ms Eason and Mr Dockrill to meet NSW Environment Minister James Griffin last month to discuss their concerns.

“When all levels of the community come together, even those you wouldn’t see fighting together, you know the consultation hasn’t worked.

“We don’t want people being fined for running their dogs across an area to a beach that’s been mined to within an inch of its lifespan, where there’s no evidence of endangered shorebirds.”

A walkway over a stream leading to a beach
This walkway will be the only dog-friendly access to the 14km long Killick Beach once the draft plan is implemented.(ABC Mid North Coast: Alexandra Jones)

Mr. Griffith has been contacted by the ABC for comment.

Kempsey Shire Council said in a statement that the council “advocated with the Minister to maintain the existing level or extend access to dog walking on the beaches”, but that the final decision on the matter lay with the NPWS.

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