Stockton dunes stay off limits

STORM damage to Stockton’s famous sand dunes is worse than first thought, with authorities now moving to install expensive sand fencing in northern parts of the bight to encourage the repair of severely eroded banks.
Nanjing Night Net

The news is a blow to the park’s managers who had hoped to soon reopen sections of the dunes to campers and four-wheel-drive enthusiasts.

Users of the park have grown increasingly frustrated with restrictions on access and camping in the area, but it now seems certain that those areas will remain off limits for some time.

That frustration was displayed at a rally held last weekend which attracted an estimated 5000 four-wheel-drive enthusiasts who called for an end to access restrictions in the region’s national parks, and in particular Stockton sand dunes.

See the Herald’s coverage of Saturday’s Unlock Australia rally here, includinga picture gallery, news report and video.

National Parks and Wildlife Service yesterday confirmed that an anticipated natural recovery of the storm-damaged dunes was either not happening, or happening much slower than expected.

NPWS ranger Tony Demamiel said sand fencing would be installed in some northern sections of the bight. Such fencing involves the laying of timber and other biodegradable materials in areas where high seas have breached the frontal dunes and flooded camping areas and four-wheel-drive tracks behind. While water has mostly drained from those areas, the danger of high seas re-entering remains, he said.

The material, erected in a mesh pattern, is designed to catch blowing sand and gradually rebuild the dunes.

‘‘We’ll have to trial the fencing in small sections and monitor the dune recovery,’’ Mr Demamiel said.

‘‘It won’t further restrict public access, but existing restrictions will have to remain in place.’’

The initial breaches in the dunes were caused by vehicles travelling from the beach and into camping areas behind, he said. Those breaches were worsened by recent high seas.

Four-wheel-drive clubs and recreational users of the dunes have flooded the Newcastle Herald with complaints about the restrictions in recent weeks.

NPWS said most of the fencing and gates referred to by park users had been erected by or for private landholders.

Worimi Land Council and Boral own several large slices of the bight which are used for commercial purposes or fenced to protect important Aboriginal sites.

Draft plan gathers pace as stakeholders squabble

A DRAFT plan of management for Stockton sand dunes is likely to be hastened following increased tensions between park managers and recreational park users.

In the pipeline for almost two years, the plan is being prepared by a board of management that comprises members of all stakeholder groups, including Worimi Land Council, four-wheel-drive clubs and commercial tour operators.

‘‘Everyone knows the park is in danger of being loved to death,’’ National Parks and Wildlife Service’s senior ranger Leanne Ellis said.

‘‘This plan will enable the park to be managed so that it can be protected, but also meet the demands of people who want to use it.’’

Ms Ellis said the recent spotlight on the area could speed up preparations of the draft plan.

‘‘We’re really pleased that so many people are interested in protecting and using the park,’’ she said.

OFF LIMITS: Wes Whitworth with his father Ken at a fenced-off section of the Stockton sand dunes. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

The public will be able to comment and make formal submissions when the draft plan goes on public exhibition.