By Rauleigh Webb

Executive Summary

Numerous high profile conservation issues currently exist within Western Australia – here’s a few.

  • Cape Range – The legal action initiated by Rauleigh Webb and Ric Brown regarding the proposed mining leases covering 82 sq km of Cape Range was concluded in the Wardens Court in Perth on 10 November 2000. The Warden will make his recommendation to the Minister for Mines before the end of the year. Unfortunately the mining company have referred the proposed mine to the EPA for evaluation. Objections to the level of evaluation are being lodged. A further donation of $675 (the balance of funds collected for this case) will be forwarded to the EDO. The ASF can add any additional funds as they see fit. The income and expenditure for this case is provided in the full report.
  • CALM is to be divided into two departments. One to manage Forest’s, the other to manage National Parks and Reserves. This split is imminent at the time of writing and will have an impact on many karst areas due to alterations in funding. The body managing lands currently held by CALM (NPNCA) is to be reorganised and called the Conservation Committee. They should be approached when formed to ensure that future management plans adequately cover the specific needs of caves and karst.
  • Housing developments in the South-West of the state to as far north as Jurien Bay continue to have significant impacts on karst areas and caves in particular. Several (5) known cave entrances were recently destroyed when a road was built over them at Carabooda just north of Perth. Greater liaison with the Environmental Protection Authority is planned, by caving clubs, to ensure further caves and karst areas are not impacted.
  • A Public Environmental Review has been published for a new road from Lancelin to Jurien Bay. This road covers a number of karst areas, some of which have not been fully examined for caves. The Federation should provide comment on this Environmental Review.
  • Caves Road from Yallingup to Augusta is to be widened. The impact on a number of caves and karst features would be great if the road remained in its current location. The ASF should make submissions to the Main Roads department in Western Australia providing details of the impact of roads on caves and suggesting alternatives where applicable.

I have held the position of ASF Conservation Co-Convenor for all but two years since 1983. I have at all times remained focused on one goal - the conservation of caves and karst. Since that time I have seen the pressures on caves and karst in Australia increase about 20 fold. These pressures come from cavers, cave managers and the general population in the form of developers, casual cavers and vandals of all descriptions.

The introduction of a Minimal Impact Caving Code for Australia would, I had hoped, improve the general caving habits of cavers and that they would consider their impacts generally using a minimal impact approach. I do not believe this has occurred or is likely to occur in my lifetime.

However I now believe that it is time for other cavers to remove there head from the sand and understand the impacts that cavers and the population as a whole is having on caves. As cavers you need to take a new approach.

This is my final report as an ASF Conservation Co-Convenor as I am resigning as of the Bathurst Conference in December 2000. I had hoped to “train” a successor however that was not meant to be. Finally, a big “Thank You” to all of those cavers who have provided support over the years.


Cape Range

Finesky Holdings Pty Ltd initially and then Learmonth Limestone (a company formed between Finesky Holdings Ptd Ltd and Barminco) applied to the Wardens Court to convert 10 Exploration Licences into 10 Mining Lease applications. The 10 leases are all located in high conservation value karst areas that contain many known caves and aquifers. The northern most lease contains the water filled portion of Wanderers Delight the longest known cave at Cape Range with 6.5km of surveyed passage.

The court proceedings covered 5 days of witnesses, a site visit and a final summary by lawyers from both sides. This proved to be an enormous amount of work for the ASF’s lawyers, the Environmental Defenders Office of WA (Sandy Boulter and Michael Bennett being the two lawyers). I cannot stress how much work was undertaken by the lawyer’s and their staff in the preparation and execution of this case. The copying bill for documents used and entered as evidence in the case amounted to over $1,000. Their work was excellent and at all times with 110% effort. I would also like to thank all of the witnesses who gave so freely of their time and without whom the ASF would have had no case. They were:- Andy Spate, Elery Hamilton-Smith, Bill Humphreys, Stefan Eberhard, Kate Morse, David Sutton, Peter Poole, and Frank Batini. Darren Brooks also assisted by conducting a cave survey of the proposed mine site, although he appeared as a witness for the mining company.

The Warden will make recommendations to the Minister for Mines, who will have the final decision, regarding the granting of the mining leases. This should occur approximately mid December 2000.

Preliminary information regarding the fauna collected from drill holes placed on the proposed mining lease indicate several possible new species. However it will take time before the samples have been fully identified.

Whatever the outcome of this case the ASF will have to continue to oppose limestone mining on the Cape Range peninsula and with a change of state government in Western Australia press for World Heritage Listing for Cape Range.

Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park (LNNP)

Development of Calgardup and Giants Cave

Approaches were made to the NPNCA who currently control the management of lands held by CALM. The lack of procedures relating to development on karst in management plans was stressed and suggestions on how the planning processes could be improved were conveyed. The NPNCA indicated that the appointment of a State Karst Officer was being considered. Further approaches should be made to whatever the “new” NPNCA is to be called following the division of CALM into “Forestry” and “National Parks”.

Improvement of development procedures on karst is critical if simple mistakes such as placing toilets above active stream caves or buildings adjacent to/on stream caves are to be avoided.

Track and Route Marking

After almost 12 months of no action on the route and track marking in Nannup and Dingo caves the then WASG president John Cugley led a party to remove the track markers glued directly to cave formations. These markers were replaced with more appropriate markers not directly attached to formations.

The loop route in Nannup Cave was also closed by management after considerable criticism by cavers about the impact of the route on the cave. Finally, after considerable debate, the Cave Management Advisory Committee realised that a mistake had been made and the loop route was removed.

Bolting of Cave Entrances and Karst Features

A number of caves and karst features have suffered considerable damage as a result of climbers bolting them for climbing purposes. These “climbers” are considered not to be members of organised groups as this “vandalism” has been condemned by climbing clubs.

However the ASF should consider providing information to ALL climbers via climbing magazines about the impacts of bolting on karst features.

The installation of detection devices at features under threat should also be recommended to management authorities.

Widening of Caves Road

The Main Roads department in Western Australia has been planning for a lengthy period of time to widen Caves Road in the South-West of Western Australia. This road has become the major access road to many of the key features of the the Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park as well as tourist facilities such as Lake Cave, Mammoth Cave and the Cave Interpretive Centre. It also passes over a number of known caves and lies very close (less than 10m) to a number of others. This issue has only just (Dec 2000) appeared as an article in the Margaret River Times newspaper. Hence the full details of the proposal are unknown to the Conservation Commission.

Latest information is that no widening of Caves Road will occur in National Parks but may do so if the road passes through private property.  The full details of the proposal are to be supplied by Main Roads.

Nullarbor World Heritage Listing

The election of the Liberal government placed the proposed listing in limbo. No new developments have occurred since the WA Liberal government was elected. Same status as 1994.

South Coast Management Plan

This is what I said last year (with the date changed):-

As at November 2000 none of the proposed National Parks or reserves in the Nullarbor region have been declared. The required legislation is STILL LOST in government mumbo jumbo! This has now worsened as a result of the Mabo and Wik decisions.

We can now only describe the situation on the Nullarbor as a case of gross neglect by the WA Government and its agencies. The management plan for the area is almost due for renewal and NONE of the proposed National Parks or reserves to protect caves have been declared.

John Watson the regional manager for this area provides the following quotation:-

“No further progress on SC Regional Management Plan recommendations for theNullarbor but please note this is the situation for most of the recommendations in the whole region ie this is not specific to the Nullarbor. The delays are caused by clarification of Native Title issues and the need for clearance by the Minister for Mines/Dept Minerals and Energy. I doubt that any progress will occur in the short term..but the fact that these are in the plan means that we do get consulted about several types of activity that might otherwise not have come our way. In other words the recommendations have not been entirely wasted effort..”

Carabooda Caves

Last year I reported on the work being undertaken by Lex Bastian and other WASG and SRGWA members on a privately owned block at Carabooda. Unfortunately the land owner and developer did not consider the importance of caves during the development of this land.

Overall 23 caves and karst features were located, explored and documented on the land proposed for development. During the first works carried out on the land, which involved the creation of roads, power lines and fencing five cave entrances were destroyed. Two beneath roads one beneath power lines and two more beneath fences. Quite clearly environmental laws in Western Australia leave a little to be desired when land owners can blatantly “destroy” caves in this way with acceptance by supposed responsible authorities.

Letters have been dispatched to appropriate authorities indicating the impact of development on caves and calling for the environmental assessment processes to be changed to ensure that such gross damage can not occur again in the future.

Many thanks to Lex Basitian for his attempts to draw notice to this matter with authorities responsible for this damage.

Two Rocks & Wanneroo

The Tokyu Corporation has received approval to proceed with developments which the ASF provided submissions on earlier this year. The poor standard of environmental decision making in WA was highlighted by this case where “cavers” were not allowed access to the caves to make appropriate comment on potential impacts on the caves and karst.

Submissions were made with generalities, as first hand knowledge of the caves in question could not be obtained. Developers 1 – Caves 0.

Drovers Cave National Park

The land clearance adjacent to the National Park took place during this year. As a result of the furore caused by this land clearance ALL further applications for land clearance have been placed “on hold” by the Environmental Protection Authority.

The impact of the land clearance in Old River Cave has not been investigated to my knowledge.

A meeting between the ASF Co-Convenors and CALM discussed the removal of large quantities of concrete blocking solution pipe cave entrances and the construction of a new gate for Drovers Cave. This proposal has been dispatched to CALM and we are awaiting there decisions. It is hoped that both of these acts will restore airflow to the cave and possibly attract back the bats that once resided in the cave.

Minimal Impact Caving in Australia

It is with some concern that I draw this matter to the Federations attention in this report. Since the adoption of the Minimal Impact Caving Code (MICC) in 1992 by the ASF I have monitored the attitudes of cavers both in Western Australia and from other states. Unfortunately I can say that I have not perceived any significant modification to caving practises since the adoption of the MICC.

Cavers seem unwilling to undertake even the slightest extra effort in caving practises to assist caves by minimising their impact on the cave environment.

I can relate specific instances of this attitude but consider that it is preferable to be critical in a general way in the hope that ALL cavers will start to reconsider every caving trip they make. Think of (invent!) ways of reducing your own or others impacts on caves and karst. For if we as cavers cannot do this the caves that we visit and enjoy will not remain in the condition that we have enjoyed for very much longer.

Simple attitudes such as not re-surveying the same cave over and over just to get a “perfect” map. When you do survey – track/route mark as you go to reduce the impact of your survey on the cave. If you are conducting research or working in a cave find ways to reduce the number of trips you need to make into the cave to collect the data that you require. This may mean better long term planning or purchasing equipment to collect more data so that the number of trips that you require is reduced.

Publication of Cave Data on the Internet

The ASF proposal to develop a Karst Index Database (KID) and place it on the WWW IS a cave conservation issue and should be discussed at length by the Bathurst Council meeting.

I personally cannot agree with this approach as it is very likely that any information of this quantity will be hacked unless it is placed on a secure database server. I doubt that the ASF has the necessary funds to pay the annual fees for such a server and therefore cannot condone such actions. Remember that if this data is hacked and published the impacts that WILL result on caves is irreversible and the data will be in the public domain for all time!

 Creating a browser interface to the KID does not mean that the database has to reside on a server on the WWW. PC based systems are VERY capable of handling the KID data without storing the complete dataset on the WWW.

 The KID concept should also be re-examined as GIS systems are now readily available and are used by the majority of government departments in the assessment of environmental data. We need to be able to provide this data to government departments in a form that they can use to ensure cave conservation as development increases dramatically on karst regions. Lets rethink where we are headed with the KID proposal.