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

Disgruntled dog walkers on New South Wales’ mid north coast have launched a community action group against “draconian” draft management plans to restrict beach access.

The group of Crescent Head residents are angry about a National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) draft management plan they say prevents them from accessing and using local beaches for dog walking.

A new NPWS plan of management, which has recently been on review, would see dogs prohibited from certain beach access routes and banned from previously off-leash dog walking areas.

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

So far, the group’s petition has gained 1,300 signatures, about 92 per cent of the town’s population.

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

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

“We started off with the simple desire to be able to walk your dog on the beach and found out the entire community is affected.”

Girl holding a ball with dog running on beach.
Walking dogs on the beach is a long-held tradition for residents in Crescent Head.(Supplied: Howard Piggott)

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

“Those rules were meant to stay in place until a suitable alternative had been negotiated, but NPWS aren’t negotiating with us.”

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

CHDaWG member Chris Dockrill, who was an original member of the now dissolved Goolawah Consultative Committee, said he joined the cause out of “frustration with the apparent authoritarian and unilateral approach to dog walking.”

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

Local resident Craig said he felt the NPWS management plan review was “underhanded”.

“So many people walk their dogs here and they want to stop locals accessing it? It’s just madness,” he said.

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

conservation concerns

NPWS Hastings Macleay area manager Shane Robinson said the team was “doing its best to get the balance right” between community concerns and NPWS’ legal obligations to “protect conservation values”.

“We don’t have any issues with people walking their dogs, but we don’t want domestic dogs to have an impact on conservation,” Mr Robinson said.

“It was flagged [the issue] was contentious but needed to be resolved to be able to protect the threatened shorebirds and turtles that nest from time to time on those beaches.”

But Ms Eason asserts the evidence supplied by NPWS on threatened species is misleading.

The group believes the area should be classified as a regional park rather than a national park as the natural environment was modified after intensive sand mining from the 1950s to the 1980s.

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

Local member appeals to Minister

Local state MP Melinda Pavey said she was “appalled” by the NPWS’s lack of consultation.

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

“When you have all levels of the community coming together, even those you wouldn’t see standing together in a fight, you know the consultation hasn’t worked.

“We do not want people fined for having their dogs go across an area to a beach that has been mined to within an inch of its life, where there is no evidence of endangered shorebirds.”

A footbridge over a creek leading on to a beach
This footbridge 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 was contacted by the ABC for comment.

The Kempsey Shire Council said in a statement that the council “has advocated to the Minister to preserve the existing level or expand dog-walking access on beaches”, but that the final decision on the issue remained with the NPWS.

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