Council asked to uphold its responsibility to protect nature reserves against high impact activity

Brisbane’s natural areas and reserves lay at the heart of our reputation as a “Biodiverse City”. Our nature reserves are essential community-valued areas, where anyone can go for a quiet and rewarding experience of nature and wildlife. This experience is put at risk by high impact recreational activities.

Damage in Sankey’s Scrub, Whites Hill.

The scope of the proposed increase in off road cycling as indicated in the draft Brisbane Off Road Cycling Strategy covers most of the natural reserves in Brisbane with at least 27 natural area parks listed, of which 85% is core koala habitat and 39% is core habitat for other ENVT species. This vastly increased use will inevitably compromise the primary conservation purpose of these reserves.

We have made our submission, as have other concerned residents and groups. The deadline to make a submission is midnight this Sunday 28th February. The petition is getting close to 1000 signatures at time of writing this.

Our reserves in Brisbane are not national park size and some are less they 100ha (e.g. Seven Hills). So introducing new trails into them has implicit impacts.

Dr Michael Liddle (Recreation Ecology, 1997) writes:

“There is a continuing grave risk that trail construction will be developed beyond the carrying capacity of the environment. This will undermine all the users’ experience of the natural asset, by providing degraded habitats.’’

Can a reserve like Whites Hill at 160ha, or Mt Gravatt Outlook at 100ha, be ecologically sustainable if there are extensions of legal and potentially illegal mountain bike tracks constructed? Compare their size and soil types to the 1000s ha where this sport usually is focussed.

Brisbane environment advocate Peter Lello says the council’s strategy neglects all the wisdom of the past 40 years of environmental policy regarding reserves for habitat.

“The accumulated wisdom advises that no human activity should occur if it is known to be detrimental to habitat,” Peter says.

“Considering a use that will knowingly cause degradation of habitat is against good governance.

“The strategy permits damage to protected natural areas through dubious impact mitigation strategies.

“The current Mt Coot-tha off road cycling is proof of these issues.”

Do we retain nature reserves for nature conservation and the public’s low impact experiences and passive use, or do we change to impacting recreation? Once the genie is out of the bottle, it may be too late.

Damage from mountain bikes at Mt Gravatt mountain.

The issues of caring for our natural areas have a long history. Most of our nature reserves had to be fought for, acquired, protected and preserved  with the public supporting them all the way. This has always been so and great American conservationist, David Muir, wrote in 1901: 

“in the noblest forests of  the world, the ground, once divinely beautiful, is desolate. The same fate awaits them all, unless awakening public opinion comes forward to stop it.”

Public opinion did come forward, and  we have protected national parks and nature reserves as legacy of this. Now in 2021, we are considering changing the main purpose of Nature Conservation for the city’s nature reserves, for recreation. We are coming forward again and are faced with another threatening process, so we should remember another quote from author H G Wells, in 1920:

“Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe”. 

So here’s to coming forward against catastrophe.


We Note

  • The key natural areas of Brisbane, though often small in area, are biodiversity hotspots and community assets, that already experience a wide range of detrimental impacts, such as habitat fragmentation, weeds, feral animals, and declines in native wildlife populations.
  • The draft strategy’s sites selections are not based on any explicit strategic environmental assessments that address the issues above, for example.
  • The proposed locations are mainly in highly valued natural areas, widely recognised by the Brisbane Community and State Government.
  • The draft strategy does not document known risks and damage to natural areas, wildlife, and other human activities.
  • Current levels of off-road cycling have already demonstrated adverse impacts on natural areas.
  • The measures in the strategy will not lead to a reduction in unauthorised uses or tracks and may accelerate them.

We Request

  • More substantial community consultation, with a focus on “off reserve” solutions before any off-road strategy is finalised.
  • A Brisbane Conservation Strategy to provide strategic guidance on the environmental values of our key natural areas and carrying capacities, given the current and future pressures.
  • Key natural areas should continue to exclude/limit off-road cycling.
  • Provision of dedicated network of “off reserve” facilities for off road cycling and other higher impact natural pursuits.
  • Program for rehabilitation of already damaged areas in key natural areas.
  • Fulsome policing of key natural areas through a rangers’ program and clear by-laws.

Also read about damage from mountain biking in Whites Hill Reserve.

One Comment

  1. On Tuesday 4th May, we discovered an area of Whites Hill (west of the summit) which had been rehabilitated to prevent erosion by the use by Council of coir logs (across the contours of a damaged and badly eroded slope). We found that people had destroyed some of the logs and ripped others out and discarded them. This was to provide mountain bike trails down the slope. It is tough to take when a natural area is deliberately damaged, for any reason. But when you see expensive land rehabilitation works, in difficult to get to areas, you realise that Council and ratepayers are the losers so someone else can enjoy themselves. We have strived for years to improve iconic nature reserves like Whites Hill, because they are beautiful landscapes and nature reserves with wildlife.

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