The Community Environment Network (CEN) has made the following submission in response to the exhibition of Central Coast Council’s Dogs in Open Spaces Action Plan.
Our interest in the Council’s Dogs in Open Spaces Action Plan relates to the potential impacts of the plan on nature, particularly on threatened or ecologically endangered communities and species. We are thankful that the Central Coast Council has prioritised “The protection and enhancement of natural environments” as one of its core objectives for introducing its DIOSAP.
Council has also acknowledged the benefits of Dog Exclusion Zones as including the significant reduction of the impact of dogs on sensitive flora and fauna.
Whilst we believe Council’s objective of creating more spaces for companion animals is admirable, we are principally concerned that an increase in dog off-leash areas and a flouting of the rules for on-leash areas could continue to cause substantial damage to local bushland and threatened and endangered species.
CEN believes all off-leash dog areas created by Central Coast Council in the final version of its DIOSAP should be fully fenced. This is the only sure way to allocate off-leash areas and prevent damage to adjoining or nearby bush reserves and biodiversity. We believe the precautionary principle must apply in relation to Central Coast Council’s responsibilities under the NSW Biodiversity Conservation Act as a landowner or manager of Crown Land. Clearly the Act states that any landowner has liability for allowing damage to native species, both flora and fauna.
The Commonwealth Government’s recently-release State of the Environment Report confirms the desperate need to protect habitat so that we can stem Australia’s appalling levels of species loss and endangerment.
Whilst the idea of controlling unfenced off-leash areas by allocating particular times for off-leash dogs may protect people, it will not prevent the threat to species in nearby habitat, so it is an idea than cannot be endorsed by CEN.
The plan’s 10-year timeframe seems excessive given the level of population growth expected in the Central Coast region between now and 2041. We believe the plan should be reviewed and adjusted every five years, particularly, as stated in the draft, given the high level of dog ownership in the region.
Regarding Table 2 on pages 6 and 7 – it is disappointing that the description of No Access for Dogs provision does not go further than including the need to protect beach and onshore environmental areas. Given the Council’s description of this region as including 50 per cent national park, state forest, bushland, open space and nature reserves, we believe the Central Coast Council’s DIOSAP should specify those areas as No Access for Dogs.
On-leash Only Access Areas must be located well away from environmentally sensitive sites, particularly given Central Coast Council’s ongoing limited resources for surveillance and enforcement. CEN has major concerns about unfenced off-leash dog access areas on the Central Coast due to the high levels of environmentally-sensitive sites and species that we have here. The need for protection of remaining habitat on the Central Coast must not be downplayed. It is essential for sustaining biodiversity and threatened species. Off-leash dog areas should be confined by fences. If a time-share arrangement is in place it should be given priority in confined areas such as sporting fields and dedicated dog parks.
We encourage Central Coast Council to be a leader in the area of protecting biodiversity and, as such, we encourage you to lobby the NSW Government to disallow dogs from being allowed in State Forests, regional parks even if they have to be under “effective control” in those locations. We believe taking such a position would be in line with Council’s obligations under the Local Government Act to consider ecological sustainability in all its activities.
Regarding On-Leash Only Provision, in addition to the challenges listed, CEN believes another challenge is that dog owners may allow their pet off-leash in sensitive bush areas. There needs to be a strategy in place to minimise the likelihood of this occurring, including the role of Rangers and penalties for non-compliance. CEN also believes the DIOSAP needs to reference the implications of knowingly or unknowingly causing damage to native flora and fauna under the Biodiversity Conservation Act to reinforce the importance of not allowing dogs into areas of high conservation value.
We believe most off-leash areas need to be fenced in order to prevent damage to sensitive flora and fauna and we believe as landowner, Council has a legal obligation to prevent such damage under the BCA. Perhaps off-leash dog parks could also have personnel and a small charge attached for their use to prevent inappropriate animals and owners from utilizing this resource to the detriment of others. Incentives to encourage developers to include FOLAs in developments must also be considered as part of Council’s DIOSAP in its final form. Any developer FOLAs should be fully, not partially, fenced wherever possible. This is particularly so in more densely populated areas where remnant habitat is under increasing threat from over-development and is increasingly important to sustain wildlife linkages.
Regarding Sites recommended for decommissioning: CEN supports the decommissioning of all listed sites. In particular the Illoura Reserve at Davistown must be decommissioned as it is one of the last known nesting and habitat areas for the Bush Stone Curlew on the Central Coast. CEN understands that the alternate site being considered in Davistown is home to the globally vulnerable Green and Golden Bell Frog. However, we believe the greater of the two threats from dogs in open spaces is to the Bush Stone Curlew which is more likely to be active and visible during the same time periods as those preferred by dog owners for either on- or off-leash activity in the area.
We support Council’s proposal to extend the currently-protected area at Illoura Reserve to include the parkland and associated water shallows.
If dogs are still given access to this area on-leash we strongly recommend that the final version of the DIOSAP includes signage to educate dog owners about the significance of this area for the protection of the Bush Stone Curlew and regular Ranger activity in the area to ensure that the on-leash ruling is adhered to. Meanwhile, whilst we accept the alternative OLA in Pine Avenue Reserve may be the lesser of two evils, CEN can only support this alternative site if it is fully fenced and regularly patrolled due to the presence of the Green and Golden Bell Frog.
We believe there will be a need for regular Ranger activity at the Terrigal Haven site to ensure dog owners adhere to the new on-leash only ruling. We are disappointed that Council has not provided more detail about the location of the alternate OLA at Duffy’s Road so we can assess its conservation value. We respectfully repeat our call for all OLAs to be fully fenced with a strong enforcement presence.
Regarding locations where site boundaries are recommended for change: the sensitive flora and fauna at the Mataram Ridge Park Woongarrah suggests that a fully-fenced OLA is necessary because the proposed off-leash area will still be in close proximity to the sensitive area. CEN would also like to suggest that signage about the importance of the flora and fauna and a substantial Ranger presence would also be necessary and should be included in the final DIOSAP.
CEN therefore supports Actions proposed to address emerging priorities on page 17 and requests the final version of the DIOSAP includes a review and upgrade of all signage regarding the status of dogs in State Forests, COSS, other reserves which have substantial biodiversity value to CEN and the Central Coast Community.
We support the introduction of seasonal access limits for dogs in onshore areas. We are disappointed that this DIOSAP draft does not mention stronger protection of hyper-sensitive areas which are increasingly and illegally used by dog owners, both off- and on-leash. The most significant example is the Wamberal Lagoon Nature Reserve. As a Nature Reserve this area is afforded the highest level of protection under the National Parks and Wildlife Act and, yet, it is constantly used by dog owners in an irresponsible and potentially damaging manner. This area is a nesting ground for several species of migratory birds protected under international treaties. While the reserve proper is obviously the responsibility of the NPWS, access areas to the Reserve, including Memorial Avenue, walkways from the surf club and via the beach and dunes are the responsibility of Central Coast Council. Council’s suggestion that it improves signage in this area to better inform dog owners about how to access the OLA is disappointing. CEN recommends the final DIOSAP specifies Wamberal Lagoon Nature Reserve as a prohibited area for dogs, including on-leash, with strong signage and a regular Ranger presence. Any mixed messaging that could encourage more dog activity in the Reserve must be avoided. Please add measures to be taken by Council to improve protection of Wamberal Lagoon Reserve to Table 8 of the DIOSAP.
We must reiterate our opposition to the strategy of “minimizing” fencing of off-leash areas. Many off-leash areas are in close proximity to environmentally-sensitive areas. Council, as landowner in many instances, has a legal obligation to prevent damage to native flora and fauna and as such CEN encourages the fencing of OLAs.
We are opposed to the removal of the fence at Colongra Bay Reserve.
We encourage Central Coast Council to provide the community with a clear definition of “effective control” and urge Council to make it clear that dogs chasing birds, particularly threatened or endangered species, is not effective control. CEN recommends the inclusion of this provision in the Council Order considered on page 22 of the DIOSAP.
The comments on page 23 regarding the use of landscaping and sensory barriers instead of fencing and fraught with risk for nearby flora and fauna. Unfenced OLAs, particularly quiet ones, are more likely to attract irresponsible dog owners. CEN does not believe this strategy will be adequate for Council to fulfil its legal obligations to protect flora and fauna from damage.
The halving of Council’s animal management services staff in 2020 is alarming to CEN. Animal management is a core Council activity and CEN urges Council to at least restore staffing levels to pre-2020, particularly as the population grows in coming years. The public has been informed recently that Council’s financial stability has been restored and we are on our way to achieving a reasonable budgetary surplus for the current financial year. Restoration of Ranger services to pre-‘crisis’ levels should follow.
On page 28 please exclude “natural parkland” as an appropriate location for new OLAs. It is reasonable to assume that many species of flora and fauna are located in natural parkland and should not be subject to further threat or degradation at a time when so many species are under threat. Please include, at all OLAs signage about the importance of protecting flora and fauna from harm and enhancing understanding of “effective control”.
CEN would be more than happy to assist Central Coast Council with any community education initiatives rolled out as part of the introduction of the DIOSAP. We believe dog owners are animal lovers and, as such, will respond well to education and information about how to make sure their dogs are not threatening or causing harm to other species or flora. We believe such education initiatives should be an important part of the final DIOSAP. We support the introduction of one FTE to work on education and dog management initiatives and would like to see protecting nature as part of those initiatives.