People attending a consultation session regarding changes to the Wellsford forest have been mixed in their assessment of plans, with environmentalists for them and prospectors against.
The session in Bendigo on Friday was a chance for the Victorian Environmental Assessment Council to discuss draft plans to add 3950 hectares on the western side of Wellsford forest to the Bendigo Regional Park and make 3160 hectares on the northern and eastern side a nature reserve.
The plan has drawn the ire of groups including prospectors, who are concerned about access and who were part of rallies in Bendigo last month against any changes.
Robert Suttie is a Bendigo branch member of the Prospectors and Miners Association of Victoria and feared the consultations could be for nothing, predicting opposition to the plan would be overridden.
While there might not be lots of gold near the surface, Mr Suttie said amateur prospectors should be able to maintain current arrangements in the Wellsford.
The plan would keep one section of the regional park open to prospectors, but other areas including the nature reserve would be off limits, VEAN chairperson Janine Haddow said.
She argued that a phrase that had been used in the debate, that people would get “locked out” of natural reserves, was not true.
“If you have a close look at the uses outlined in the report you can see there are a lot that would be able to take place,” Ms Haddow said.
“It’s a piece of language that has gained traction and I’m not sure why.”
People would still be able to use the Wellsford for activities including camping, four-wheel driving and trail-bike riding.
That said, recreational hunting and industrial timber harvesting would be banned, though domestic firewood collection would be allowed in the regional park area.
Some groups were supportive of the plan, especially because it sought to protect endangered flora and fauna that called the area home.
Wellsford Forest Conservation Alliance secretary Glenda Verrinder said the VEAN had done a “good job”, even if she would have rather seen the area be transformed into a national park as her group had originally desired.
She did have questions, though. She flagged several potential issues.
“There are some areas I think there will be difficulty managing. Firewood collection is one,” she said.
Dr Verrinder was concerned it could be too easy for commercial interests to collect firewood, when those arrangements were intended only for domestic users.
She also had reservations about rules for bike riding, with fears people may not use designated tracks.
“They say mountain bike riders should only go on certain tracks, but you know what people are like,” Dr Verrinder said.
The VEAC is taking submissions on the draft plans until Wednesday 31 October.
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