South Ballina Beach closed to vehicle access

Statement and further Questions and Answers

What consultations have occurred prior to the access restrictions being implemented?

The closure follows ongoing consultations between Ballina Shire Council; Richmond Valley Council; the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment – Crown Lands; the National Parks & Wildlife Service (NPWS); NSW Police; Jali Local Aboriginal Land Council; and Bandjalang Aboriginal Corporation.

What vehicle access points are being closed?

Access points are being closed to vehicles at the Richmond River Nature Reserve, Moylans Lane, Keith Hall Lane, Empire Vale Road, and Boundary Creek Road. Access to Patchs Beach was closed by Ballina Shire Council in June 2020.

Can emergency services and commercial fishers vehicles still access South Ballina?

Secured vehicle access points using lock and key will be maintained for emergency services, commercial fishers, Jali Local Aboriginal Land Council and Bandjalang Aboriginal Corporation at Richmond Nature Reserve (NPWS), Patchs Beach (Ballina Shire Council) and Boundary Creek (Richmond Valley Council).

How will recreational fishers access the beach?

Pedestrian access to the beach will remain unrestricted. Recreational fishers are advised to park their vehicles at the nearest road or carpark and walk to their desired fishing spot.

Where will recreational four-wheel driving still be allowed?

Recreational four-wheel driving is still allowed below the high tide mark on regulated beaches north of the Richmond River in Ballina Shire. Four-wheel drives can access Seven Mile Beach at Lennox Head via Camp Drewe Road where Ballina Shire Council operates a permit system.

Recreational four-wheel drivers can also access a 4.6 km stretch of Air Force Beach below the high tide mark north to the coffee rocks which is monitored by Richmond Valley Council.

What has prompted the closure of South Ballina Beach to vehicle access?

There have been ongoing concerns about the impacts of four-wheel drives on the public safety of other beachgoers, the environment, and Aboriginal heritage sites.

Non-compliant four-wheel drive activities that have been recorded have included speeding and racing, driving above the high tide mark, driving through sand dunes and vegetation, driving over coffee rock areas, and wheel spinning.

Over the past two-and-a-half years the National Parks and Wildlife Service has issued more than 300 infringement notices for driving in restricted areas and has recorded numerous instances where endangered Pied Oyster Catcher birds have been killed as a result of recreational four wheel drives.

Richmond Valley Council issued 345 penalty infringement notices to four-wheel drivers at areas of the beach it monitors over a six-month period from October 2020 to March 2021.

NSW Police operations over the October 2020 long weekend and Christmas holidays saw 5 speeding infringements issued; 6 negligent driving infringements for offences such as doing doughnuts and fishtailing; 2 drink driving arrests; and another 86 infringements for other offences related to anti-social behaviour, littering and dogs as well as 42 warnings.

Why is the closure of South Ballia Beach to vehicles occurring so close to the Easter holiday period?

Peak holiday periods are typically when the most significant environmental impacts occur due to the higher volumes of traffic on the beach. Holidays have also seen high instances of reckless and dangerous driving and increased numbers of fines issued to drivers.  Closure prior to the Easter period will protect the beach from further damage.

What are the environmental concerns with vehicles on South Ballina Beach?

The area of beach from South Ballina Beach to Evans Head is internationally recognised as an important breeding, foraging and roosting habitat for migratory shorebirds.

Migratory shorebirds are listed under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) and are classified of national environmental significance.

The National Parks and Wildlife Service advises that the beach supports significant numbers of Pied Oystercatchers, which are listed as ‘Endangered’ under the NSW Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016.

Other threatened shorebirds recorded at the beach include Sooty Oystercatchers (Vulnerable), Little Terns (Endangered), Sanderlings (Vulnerable), Beach Stone-curlew (Endangered), Greater Sand-plover (Vulnerable), Lesser Sand-plover (Vulnerable), Curlew Sandpiper (Endangered) Great Knot (Vulnerable), Terek Sandpiper (Vulnerable), White-bellied Sea Eagle (Vulnerable), and Eastern Ospreys (Vulnerable).

Vehicle activity can have a substantial impact on shorebird habitats by damaging nests, forcing breeding birds away from nests, exposing eggs to predation and the elements, increasing stress that impacts feeding rates, and through direct vehicle impacts with birds.

Loggerhead turtles (Endangered), Leatherback turtles (Endangered) and green turtle (Vulnerable) nests have also been recorded on South Ballina Beach. Vehicles driving above the high-tide line can destroy sea turtle nests.

Driving in the dunes, which is not permitted but has been occurring at South Ballina Beach, also destroys stabilising vegetation resulting in acceleration of erosion.

What are the concerns about the impacts of vehicles on areas of Aboriginal significance at South Ballina Beach?

Aboriginal organisations including the Jali Local Aboriginal Land Council and Bandjalang Aboriginal Corporation have had ongoing concerns about the impacts of recreational four-wheel drives on sensitive Aboriginal heritage sites.

This has included concerns about damage to areas where traditional burials were held, and where Aboriginal middens are located, as well as concerns about environmental impacts to sensitive dune and vegetation systems and to native animals including endangered shorebirds.

What penalties will apply if unauthorised vehicles do not abide by the access restrictions?

Breaching of closure orders can result in penalty infringement notices being issued.

Who is responsible for managing South Ballina Beach?

DPIE Crown Lands manages 13.5 km of coastal dunes above the mean high-water mark and a 28km stretch of beach below the mean high-water mark.

The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) manages Richmond River Nature Reserve which is located at the northern end of South Ballina Beach, including approximately 2.5km of intertidal beach zone from the south wall at the Richmond River.

Richmond Valley Council monitors about 15 km of beach that includes Broadwater and Air Force Beaches.

Why isn't a vehicle beach access permit system being implemented at South Ballina Beach?

South Ballina Beach is being closed to vehicles due to ongoing concerns about public safety and impacts to the environment and Aboriginal heritage sites.

Ballina Shire Council does not manage vehicle use on South Ballina Beach and its beach access policy and permit system do not apply there.