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Advocacy

Mountain Bike Trails at Westleigh Park Consultation

Dear Mayor and Councillors,

Friends of Berowra Valley are deeply concerned by the biased nature of this consultation. The purpose is “to involve the environmental and mountain biking communities in developing a co-designed concept plan of mountain bike trails at Westleigh Park while protecting the high value areas of bushland.” The fundamental issue here is that your purpose is impossible. Mountain bike trails exclude protection of bushland.

Your own environment consultants have laid bare the extensive damage already done.

From the Westleigh Natural Area Assessment by EcoLogical dated July 2020 page 87.

”The existing trail network has been constructed without environment assessment and without collaboration with landowners. No education program has been provided to mountain bike community regarding the impact of their activities on ecological values (and human health through asbestos movement) The length, width and construction activity of trails has noticeably increased since acquisition of the land by Council. As a result, soil erosion, soil and seed translocation and vegetation damage has also noticeably increased. These key issues threaten the integrity of the native vegetation to a point that some areas are currently at risk of approaching an ecological threshold.
The current condition is not acceptable as a baseline for future management decisions. The baseline should be zero trail disturbance. However, current conditions need to be documented to form the basis of monitoring and evidence to inform ongoing management decisions.”

Yet the entire consultation has assumed that just because mountain bikers have taken over the area that this destruction of bushland should be accommodated.

We were shocked that Council’s webinar allowed time for a mountain biker to present his position but not one local expert was allowed to make a presentation on the ecological importance of this particular site or the damage being caused to the critically endangered forests

Nowhere in the webinar was research evidence of recreational damage to natural areas, and in particular endangered ecosystems, properly presented. We were hoping the professional researcher would explain these impacts in a non-combative, unemotional manner to all present in the webinar. For whatever reason she chose not to. Our objections to use of this area is not based on emotional ideals but on solid evidence, evidence supported by their declaration as threatened ecosystems, in particular the 2019 reclassification of the Sydney Turpentine-Ironbark Forest from  an endangered ecological community (EEC) to a critically endangered ecological community (CEEC). The webinar was therefore in our opinion, heavily slanted towards the mountain bikers point of view. Given that the Mayor and Councillors attended the webinar, it should have presented both points of view which it did not do.

As stated on page 87 of the Westleigh Natural Area Assessment of July 2020 “some areas are currently at risk of approaching an ecological threshold” i.e. there is a risk that the conservation status of the endangered ecological communities may be downgraded because of the damage being done to each of the vegetation stratum by the mountain bikers. Yet this was not even mentioned at the webinar. HSC purchased the land with the desire to provide for the recreational needs of the entire community.  Just because one group of people have commandeered the area for themselves means nothing. In a few years time this important, rare and endangered forest will just be a stand of trees as it will have been effectively destroyed by this group who will then again be clamouring for more bushland.

There is a Better Way

As one of our workshop participants said “Let’s take a step back” and not just listen to one highly vocal and organised group of people and think about what is important for the whole community and for the area itself. In NSW walking is the number 1 recreational activity, cycling comes 5th and mountain biking is a small subset of the overall numbers of cyclists.

The bushland in this area is incredibly special because it contains critically endangered and endangered ecological communities as well as threatened species of flora and fauna. It has an intrinsic value not only for the local community but also at a State and Federal level.  Council must not let a small group of people blind it to the potential to create a park that conserves our endangered forests, protects our threatened species and considers all of our native flora and fauna  now and into the future.

Our Position

FoBV do not support recreational activities that lead to a degradation of environmental values. FoBV believes no mountain bike tracks should be allowed in Endangered Ecological Communities, habitats for threatened species, biobanking sites or Aboriginal and Heritage sites. Mountain bikes should be confined to park edges, for example asset protection zones, permitted on management trails and any new trails should be confined to edges and highly degraded sites with low resilience.

The recent State Government Draft Cycling Strategy stated that there are over 30,000km of maintenance trails in the National Parks of NSW alone. These provide ample opportunity for children and families to engage in mountain biking close to where they live. Additional family-friendly trails do not need to be sanctioned in the most ecologically sensitive areas of Westleigh Park to fulfil a need that is already adequately fulfilled close by.

Initial Consultation – Elton Consulting

We are concerned that this consultation process has been high-jacked by the mountain bikers who are highly motivated to hang on to the area that they have helped themselves to. Other consultations i.e. Hornsby Quarry Park released the postcodes of the people surveyed but we have been unable to get this information from Elton Consulting. The area is publicised as a mountain bike hub and has therefore attracted mountain bikers from across Sydney and further afield.  Providing the results of an online survey without publishing the postcodes of the respondents provides no indication of the actual local demand for the Westleigh tracks.

Our Recommendation

Mountain biking is destroying bushland throughout the whole state and there needs to be a state-wide strategy to deal with this problem.

We are aware that Council has received advice from the State Government that the $3.6 million grant for the link track and Westleigh trails can be used to purchase another site and built a purpose built mountain bike park, one that does not impact on critically endangered ecological communities and threatened species. This money could be used to build a purpose built mountain bike park on  a large block of privately owned non-residential land that has been cleared or partially cleared, or a mining site that needs to be rehabilitated. Not within endangered ecological communities or threatened species habitats such as Westleigh Park.

Kind regards,

Karen Benhar

President – Friends of Berowra Valley

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