2006 – Present
Until the late 1900s the Belmont Wetlands area was not generally recognised as a valuable natural site as the area had suffered from the effects of coal mining, sand mining and extraction, weed infestations, indiscriminate off-road vehicle use, and urban encroachment.
The 1990s the Lake Macquarie Coastal & Wetlands Alliance galvanised the community and its like-minded affiliated groups in a nine-year campaign. Community interest and support grew with vigorous petitions, rallies and community actions leading to a mutual agreement between BHP and the state government that the site be handed over to the state government. In 2006 the Belmont Wetlands area was established as the 10th State Park in New South Wales.
Community volunteers have been the foundation on which this park has continued to build.
Belmont Wetlands State Park (BWSP) is an area of Crown land that stretches 4.5 km along the coast from Redhead to Belmont South. The 549 hectare holding contains diverse ecology and large areas of unspoilt or only partly-damaged ecosystems recognised as regionally significant. Green corridors link the site with Lake Macquarie and are part of a total system reaching as far as the Watagan Mountains.
The Park manages seven recognised coastal wetlands and features the largest single, open water wetland in Lake Macquarie, the Belmont Lagoon complex. Environments within the area range from coastal wetlands to rare examples of coastal woodlands and include extensive sand dunes fringed by forest.
The NSW government supplied initial seed funding for the voluntary community-based Trust to act as caretakers of the park and to commence revegetation. The funds also provided a project officer to oversee the contract for the preparation of a Plan of Management (PoM) for the park and help provide Landcarers and community volunteers with project management, bush regeneration and supervision.
Our project partners and associates have included: Belmont Wetlands State Park Land Manager, Hunter Wetlands Centre, Hunter Institute of TAFE, Conservation Volunteers Australia, Trees in Newcastle, Local Land Services, Lake Macquarie City Council and state and federal government funding bodies and advisors and Bahtabah Local Aboriginal Land Council.
Under the Plan of Management, the BWSP Land Manager (LM), a community-based voluntary board, instructs employees or contractors to supervise and conduct park operations including Landcare works. This has involved bush regeneration work and access management, including a gated fire trail system under our fire management plan. Operations now include park and beach ranger work, improved access and visitor management, vehicular and dune fencing and gate building and installation of appropriate signage. This will strike an appropriate balance between coastal wetland rehabilitation and protection and sensitively presented and controlled public recreation and tourism.
It is inevitable that there will be difficulties in managing the conflicting demands of the community over such a large and diverse site. There will be different visions among members of the community as to the best ways forward. While it is rare that a site of this scale and state importance would be managed by a community volunteer board, over the last 10 years these volunteers have made a huge contribution to transforming the site and educating the community to appreciate the values of such a state-significant asset on their suburban doorstep. The challenges obvious from the start have not disappeared, however. With these challenges come great opportunities. BWSP LM board is well on the way to managing the issue of 4WD access to the beach for various legitimate activities. Under our Beach Permit System regulations, driver behaviour is being improved, with our rangers enforcing the appropriate regulations. Damage to dune vegetation is being prevented by compliance, education, barriers and signage, and Landcare dune rehabilitation work. Illegal dumping and vehicle arson is reducing. After an improvement in recent years, there has been a worrying recent spike in deliberately-lit bushfires which are, however, being investigated and responses incorporated in our bushfire Management Plan.
There are many rewards for members of the Friends of Belmont Wetlands Landcare group – developing skills, strengths, interests and abilities while engaging in a satisfying and socially enjoyable shared community. We value our area of great scenic beauty and natural variety in the state’s second largest conurbation.