FOR 10 years, Raylene Sambrooks has relied on the bush tracks across the road from her Goornong property to retrain countless former race horses.
She finds the tranquil tracks through the Wellsford forest ideal to help the horses de-stress from their lives on the race track, to then be trained for recreational uses for horse lovers.
But when she saw plans from a draft Victorian Environmental Assessment Council report to change the land into a nature reserve – banning horse riding, prospecting, dog walking and firewood collection – she feared for the future of her work.
“If I didn’t have this access to the tracks, I wouldn’t be able to do this work,” Ms Sambrooks said.
“Riding them on the tracks helps the horses to relax. They have been in a racing environment and a lot of work is required to change their temperament to be appropriate for recreational use.
“This is the ultimate environment to train them in.”
The horses come from far and wide – including drought-affected areas, trainers who wanted to move them on, and those who lost interest in their horses. Their future would be uncertain without access to a business like Ms Sambrooks’.
“We have to turn horses away because we don’t have space for them,” she said.
The business on Martins Road was among many in the Goornong-Longlea area concerned about the impacts of the draft VEAC proposal, which suggests turning 3160 hectares of the Wellsford into a nature reserve, and adding a further 3950 hectares to the Greater Bendigo regional park.
Kelly Ellerton, who also lives in the area, said residents were confused as to how four-wheel-driving and car rallies could be allowed in the area, but not horse riding or dog walking.
“Some people bought properties specifically so they could have access to it,” she said.
VEAC staff will hold a meeting on Martins Road at 2pm on Wednesday to hear feedback.
Member for Bendigo East Jacinta Allan arranged the meeting after receiving feedback from concerned residents.
She said those concerned could make submissions until December 10.
“At the moment the recommendations are only draft and they’re not final from VEAC, and there’s quite a bit of the process to go through,” Ms Allan said.
“I’ve been through a few of these reports with the creation of the box ironbark a few years ago. There’s still quite a long way to go.”
Nationals candidate for Bendigo East Gaelle Broad said Greens’ claims that there could be a “scare campaign” over the changes were incorrect.
“I think these are very legitimate concerns that people are raising,” she said.
“I’ve spoken to locals in the region, they’ve moved to the area thinking they’ll ride their horses in the forest and this doesn’t just affect them, it affects their neighbours and friends.
“We are wanting people to be respectful of the environment that they are in, but these are people that are going in – they are the eyes and ears of the forest.
“When we stop people going in, we’ve not keeping track of what’s going on in there.”
Environment group to protest changes for Wombat forest
An environmentalist based in Wheatsheaf – east of Daylesford, near the Wombat State Forest – says national parks are a “lazy way” of dealing with degraded forests.
Loris Duclos received a Commonwealth Centenary medal for her work ending unsustainable logging in the Wombat, which was then applied to Victoria’s 15 forest management areas.
The VEAC report proposed the creation of the Wombat-Lerderderg National Park over 52,853 hectares of existing state parks and forests.
Ms Duclos said decades of intensive, unsustainable logging had caused the Wombat State Forest to be “in a depauperate and structurally poor condition”, and simply applying a national park would not solve the problem.
“Large areas of the Wombat forest outside the current reserve system are now in a suppressed state with too many small diameter trees per hectare, but, unlike the Ash forests in the East these drier forests do not naturally self-thin,” she said.
“To regain a more natural structure the suppressed mixed species forests in the West must wait for a catastrophic event to kill some of the trees and allow those that remain to grow on.
“The suppressed forest stops growing, it becomes much more susceptible to drought, disease and fire, it shifts from storing to releasing carbon, and provides poor habitat and water catchment benefits.
“If we truly wanted to benefit biodiversity and the full suite of environmental values we would come up with an ecological restoration plan for these damaged forests and not simply change the land status.”
Wombat Forest community members will hold a protest in Gisborne at 2pm on Saturday against the proposal to create a national park.
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