Recent changes expanding the rights of campers and anglers to access crown land river frontages have drawn outrage from farmers, who said open access could be potentially dangerous.
One Wimmera farmer said they have had to deal with livestock being shot, dogs attacking sheep, and litter due to camping on their leased river frontage.
"They bring firearms, I've had livestock shot. They bring their dogs, they bring their rubbish. This is not all of them, but it is the element that is amongst them," they said.
"They come, and then they light their fire, think it's out, and the wind gets up and takes it. I've had to insure my livestock and fences; it's cost me money because I don't know who is going to go down on the river.
Unlike dedicated campsites, crown river frontages often lack shower, toilet, or rubbish removal facilities, leaving farmers to pick up the mess once campers are gone.
"Who then picks up the pieces of rubbish when the wind blows it all the way through the farm. Or you've got the smell when someone has dug a hole or gone to the toilet against a tree for days on end," they said.
The farmer also said there was little recourse to deal with issues arising from problem campers.
"It has to come with responsibility and accountability, and there is nothing in place whatsoever for these campers at the moment. They can come and go, bring their dogs, leave their rubbish and it is out of sight, out of mind," they said.
"I have had issues and I have gone around and around. It gets passed one between the CMA, DELWP, the Police, and Council. It gets passed on from one thing to another."
“There appears to be little thought on how it is going to impact on farming practice, the running of farms, and the impact on livestock that use these waterways.”
In 2018, the Victorian Government committed to guaranteeing access to fishing and camping on crown lands, recently passing amendments to remove the prohibition on camping on licensed river frontages.
The Victorian Government aims to progress further with the changes and provide regulations on crown land's recreational use.
Farmers and landholders are concerned the changes may affect their livelihood.
Farmer Daryl Moore also leases a crown river frontage on the Wimmera River. He said while most of the public respectfully uses the land, he has had issues with campers in the past.
"It has nothing to with us thinking we own the river or the good average joe who just walks along there with all the best intentions," he said.
Mr Moore said he often has to patrol areas around his property to make sure unattended campfires are put out and don't spread further.
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"In a general sense, it is a bit of a problem. We've lost utes and stock. To be fair we probably haven't had any theft for the last 12 months, but have probably lost something every year for the previous three or four years," he said.
The new camping changes are set to begin from September 1, 2021, with the Victorian Government seeking feedback from stakeholders, including a six-week public consultation period throughout March and April.
Recreational fishing group VRFish supports expanding access to river frontages. The group's Chairman Rob Loats said the process would clarify how the land could be used by anglers.
"The proposed regulations will allow recreational fishers to soon camp alongside our brilliant waterways while wetting a line with their friends and family," he said.
"We are confident that the final regulations can meet our needs as recreational fishers as well as balancing the needs of other stakeholders including license holders, farmers, and local communities and the environment."
The problem is that there is an element out there that are not good people. Those that are not responsible.- Daryl Moore
However, the Victorian Farmers Federation has publicly criticised the process of expanding waterfront access, with President David Jochinke expressing disappointment in the removal of the crown land access prohibition.
"We are bitterly disappointed that the concerns of farmers have been ignored and we will hold the government to their commitment to consult meaningfully with the VFF in the development of regulations," he said.
"In consulting, the government must get out and speak to the farmers and landholders that will be impacted. We can't afford to have confusion about the regulations."
For more information, visit https://engage.vic.gov.au/regulated-watercourse-land-regulations.
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